Why baseball players have a more effective union than football players?

Clark Griffith explains why he thinks “Tom Brady will lose and baseball players win.” It’s because “in Major League Baseball, grievances are heard and decided by an impartial arbitrator. In the National Football League, the person who hears and decides grievances is the commissioner.”

I want to focus on a more general question: Why has the Major League Baseball Players Association consistently negotiated more favorable contracts on a full range of issues than its counterpart, the National Football Players Association? One explanation, which comes through in Clark’s piece, is that the baseball players hired smarter people early on.

I don’t dispute this. However, I have a more general theory: baseball players are more ornery than football players (and, for that matter, basketball players).

Football and basketball stars become heroes at an early age. They are worshiped in high school (and sometimes before), courted extravagantly by college recruiters, pampered in college, and then (if they’re good enough) placed directly into the luxurious life of the big leagues. (To be fair, though,a great many come from poor or lower middle class backgrounds.)

Baseball players are less celebrated in high school and college (if they attend). And they almost always enter the profession via the minor leagues, where they typically spend several years (quite possibly five or more if they become professionals right out of high school).

The minor leagues are a grinding, humbling experience. The pay is low, the towns lack glamor, and the bus rides are long, tedious, and not very comfortable.

Thus, my theory goes, when baseball players finally make it, they have a fortitude that their more spoiled counterparts in football and basketball lack. That’s why they are more likely to hang tough in negotiations, as they did most famously during the 1994 labor dispute when the baseball season was lost.

I learned from my father, a labor organizer, that ultimately union leaders are only as tough as they can persuade their members to be. I believe that, at least until now, the leaders of the baseball union have found it easier than their counterparts in other sports to persuade their members, most of whom come up the hard way, to be tough.