Players | Matthew Futterman

Summary of: Players: The Story of Sports and Money and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution
By: Matthew Futterman


Step into the world of sports and discover the intricate stories and the players who fought for control in the book Players: The Story of Sports and Money and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution by Matthew Futterman. This summary will take you back in time when professional athletes had little power or financial security, and explore how the tables turned. Witness the impact of pivotal figures like lawyer Mark McCormack and the battle led by Marvin Miller on behalf of the Major League Players Association (MLBPA). Delve into the stories of athletes like Catfish Hunter and the evolution of sports training through innovators like Nick Bollettieri as well as the groundbreaking marketing of stars such as Michael Jordan.

Athletes’ Rise to Power

In the past, professional athletes had little money or power. Owners controlled everything, and athletes rebelled against their monopoly. This began to change when Cleveland lawyer Mark McCormack represented Arnold Palmer, and athletes began to gain more control over their careers and financial security. McCormack’s success transformed the way athletes do business, leading to exploding salaries and a rise in power and influence.

The Rise of Athletes’ Power

The summary highlights the journey of Jim “Catfish” Hunter, a former player, who despite being a successful pitcher insisted on fair treatment. Hunter’s demands brought about significant changes to salary structures in professional sports, starting from the American League in Major League Baseball. The story dates back to 1965, with Hunter and other players seeking to gain more power in labor negotiations with baseball team owners. They recognized the need for new leadership in the Major League Players Association (MLBPA) and offered the position to Marvin Miller, who was the senior economist of a powerful steelworkers’ union. Under Miller’s leadership, MLBPA underwent transformational changes and became a force to reckon with in the league. The owners wanted to undermine Miller’s work, which led to a lack of funding for the union. However, Miller’s brilliance helped earn a deal with Coca-Cola for printing players’ images on their bottle caps. With this, the players received enough support to keep the union running. Miller also renegotiated the contract of players with Topps Baseball Cards who were paying $125 to players for putting their pictures on the cards, but under Miller’s influence, Topps agreed to pay players royalties on each pack of card sold. This newfound power and unity among athletes eventually led to better pay deals with the teams, and players gained more control over their careers.

Breaking the Shackles

Baseball’s Reserve Clause had bound players to the team they first signed with for the entirety of their careers, with no room to negotiate new contracts and no freedom to move to other teams. However, after much negotiation and hard bargaining, the MLBPA contract underwent a significant shift. If a player’s contract defaulted, they would become a free agent, and any team could hire them. This was a momentous breakthrough, with the owners having no idea of the potential ramifications of such a contract, despite their laziness and arrogance. This dramatic shift only occurred because of many years of fighting, which ultimately untethered baseball players from the shackles of their contracts. This tiny step gave birth to the freedom for players to make their choices and made the Reserve Clause a part of history.

Catfish Hunter’s Contract Battle

When Catfish Hunter asked for a partial salary deferment for tax reasons, A’s owner Finley agreed but then refused to sign a necessary document. Hunter’s attorney demanded that Finley put his refusal in writing or face breach of contract. Hunter ultimately became a free agent, sparking a bidding war and setting a precedent for player empowerment. Despite pressure from the league and Finley, Hunter stood his ground and ultimately won his case through an outside arbiter.

How Free Agency Changed Pro Sports

The Hunter decision in 1974 broke the wall of unanimity among owners in opposition to players, making him baseball’s first free agent. The Yankees signed him to a five-year, $3.5 million deal. Today’s system reflects the subsequent 1976 collective bargaining agreement. Players spend two years on reserve, have four years of “salary arbitration eligibility” and become free agents after six years. The Hunter decision changed pro sports, and free agency overtook both football and baseball, allowing teams to buy greatness as players earned more. This led to other big changes, with younger athletes dedicating their lives to a pro career, sacrificing school, family, and friends. Now, baseball is an $8 billion business with a cable network and a web company. Clubs grew in value, and nobody lost money from free agency. At the heart of McCormack’s ideas was a simple theory: Sports were about the athletes, and especially the stars, and today’s sport still reflects that.

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