Wednesday, January 22

Moneyball

Al Reach
Image = explorepahistory
By Art Cashin

On (approximately) this day (I think) in 1865, as the Civil War was winding down and as Lincoln prepared for his second inauguration, an important part of America began to change.

Newspaper editorials began to rail about something bad that had occurred in the summer of the prior year. (No, it was not the Battle of the Wilderness, or Cold Harbor or Mobile Bay.) The editors were aghast that a guy named Al Reach had left Brooklyn to earn money in Philadelphia.

Reach's problem was not interstate commerce, it was the trade he practiced. Reach was compact, wiry and fleet of foot. He was perfect for his job. Al Reach was a second baseman. (Baseball?, you say. Yes, Baseball! Virginia.)

In the summer of 1864, Al Reach left the Brooklyn Acfords (or Brooklyn Atlantics) to go to the Philadelphia Athletics. The inducement was a paycheck (the amazing sum of $25.00 per week "in season".) Irate Brooklyn fans began to push for a boycott. Baseball was a gentleman's game and money could only sully it.
Well, the controversy festered into the Hot Stove League (back when folks actually sat around hot stoves). But the outraged editorials, amid the winter chill, had an unexpected boomerang effect. In trying to be fair, they noted that other players may have been paid "off the books." (Jim Creighton of the Brooklyn Excelsiors was said to get a "piece of the gate" under the table.)

The other unexpected effect was that the simple publicizing of payment led more players to ask for payment. And so baseball turned professional. In less than 10 years, superstars were earning more than doctors. That worked well for decades. After all, free enterprise should fit America's game.

But then someone walked in and said - "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." With the purpose of keeping America's game pure, Congress gave it anti-trust protection. Management used the tool to keep some exceptionally gifted people at a compensation level that equaled indentured servitude. That lasted for decades until the advent of free agency which naturally swung the pendulum way back. After that there was no further trouble about salaries in baseball or any sports that we know of.

To mark the day, drop by the compensation committee and show them your curveball. Try not to spit any Bull Durham on the carpet. (You might skip the Dennis Rodman look.....its been done.)

To our readers:
Thanks for hanging in there with us while we finish attending to some personal issues. Hopefully, more regular posting will resume soon. And thanks to Art Cashin for pinch hitting for me during this time.
Grant Davies

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

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