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Wayne McDonnell is a Clinical Professor of Sports Management at the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at New York University. He also teaches a continuing education course titled "Business of Baseball."
Previous Book Reviews:
On PERFECT
On Roger Maris
On Beyond Batting Average





This Month
Wayne McDonnell reviews Lee Lowenfish's
The Imperfect Diamond



Thirty years ago, author Lee Lowenfish chronicled the contentious relationship between the players and the owners in the first edition of "Imperfect Diamond." During the early 1980s, baseball fans had a front row seat to the acrimony that existed between Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. By the time that Lowenfish's book had originally hit the bookshelves, the sport had already suffered through two strikes (1972 & 1980) and two lockouts (1973 & 1976). Lowenfish knew that the timing was perfect for an all-inclusive historical overview of the labor issues that have plagued baseball for the better part of a century.

From the moment that Marvin Miller had assumed leadership of the Major League Baseball Players Association in the mid-1960s; many felt that he would immediately have a profound influence on the lives of his constituents. At one point, Yankees pitcher Rudy May was quoted as saying "Man, don't the owners know that there's going to be a whole generation of ballplayers' sons who grow up with the middle name of Marvin?" Besides uniting an eclectic audience with varying needs, Miller vehemently opposed the repeated requests by the owners for salary maximum proposals and compensation for lost free agents. He fought passionately for pension plans, the abolishment of the reserve clause and player salaries. Miller became an iconic figure and trailblazer who singlehandedly redefined the business of sports. However, his deeply entrenched unionist mentality and overtly aggressive negotiating tactics were met with disdain and angst by the baseball barons.

Even as a nonagenarian today, Miller is still an outspoken and fierce advocate of the union and even publicly questions the motives of its current leaders. The sheer mention of Marvin Miller's name still creates a polarizing response within baseball's inner circles. He is either deified for his vast accomplishments towards the advancement of player unions or he is vilified for encouraging avarice and capitalist tendencies amongst professional athletes. Whatever one might feel about Marvin Miller, he has unequivocally earned the right to be enshrined into Baseball's Hall of Fame. Hopefully, this egregious error is rectified later this year as the newly organized Veterans Committee will once again review his candidacy.

Lowenfish's first and second editions of "Imperfect Diamond" are just as powerful today as they were in 1980 and 1991. If he decided to leave his original work untouched, "Imperfect Diamond" would still be an essential book for anyone who has aspirations of intimately understanding the adversarial relationship between the players and the owners. However, it is immensely appreciated that Lowenfish has decided to issue a third edition and capture the labor strife and animosity that had polluted baseball at the end of the twentieth century. Lowenfish's newly written epilogue picks up where the second edition had left off: the early 1990s. During this time, Commissioner Fay Vincent confronted numerous insurmountable challenges. Unfortunately, he quickly came to the painful realization that baseball was temporarily broken and was on the verge of suffering through cataclysmic events. One of those events was the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. Lowenfish doesn't only focus on the toxic relationship between the players and the owners, but he takes a minor detour and provides insight on the bickering that had actually existed between various owners. While the players' union practiced and preached solidarity, the owners were bickering over expansion fees, cable television, and revenue sharing. Besides the events of 1994, Lowenfish gives ample time to current matters of importance such as performance enhancing drugs, luxury taxes, the Mitchell Report, home run records and the explosion in players' salaries.

Lowenfish's best example of discontent and division amongst the owners was the infamous retreat in Kohler, Wisconsin in August 1993. As Interim Commissioner, Bud Selig had planned a weekend retreat in a secluded location. He had hoped that an atmosphere free of distractions would help the owners focus on creating a revenue sharing proposal that all could agree upon. Instead, Selig's novel idea imploded and the owners strategically divided into two economic groups: "the big markets" and "the small markets." Selig spent the weekend splitting his time between two different buildings on the resort grounds where both groups met separately. On the other hand, Ken Caminiti summarized the players' position with one simple sentence, "When Don (Fehr) says we go, we must go."

As always, Lowenfish goes to great lengths to clearly and succinctly chronicle the events that pertain to his desired topic of interest. Unlike most history books that deal with labor unions, legal issues and prominent court cases, Lowenfish doesn't inundate the reader with a voluminous amount of irrelevant information that detracts from the overall message of the text. Instead, Lowenfish structures each chapter with precision and accuracy. A topic of this magnitude could have easily been an unmanageable 500 - 600 page tome, but Lowenfish has kept it well below 400 pages. Even the newly written epilogue is only 26 pages in length. His intent and purpose is to paint an objective portrait of baseball's labor wars without adding clutter to an otherwise complicated topic.

Over the past three decades, Lee Lowenfish has become a well respected and greatly admired baseball historian. He has an uncanny ability to breathe life into his work and subjects. With each turn of the page of "Imperfect Diamond," you can sympathize with the struggles of John Montgomery Ward, Danny Gardella and Tony Lupien, but Lowenfish also allows you to see their character flaws and why they failed in certain instances. It is also worth noting that Lowenfish's depictions of baseball's pioneers are accurate and well-crafted. Albert Spalding, Ban Johnson, and Henry Chadwick can easily command several pages of a book on baseball's history, but Lowenfish knows how to eloquently summarize an individual and their contributions without diluting the overall message of a paragraph or chapter.

At one point during "Imperfect Diamond," it appears as if two historical accounts are running parallel to each other where they sometimes intersect. Besides receiving an all encompassing education on baseball labor management, the reader will also learn volumes about the evolution of Major League Baseball's commissioner. Lowenfish doesn't leave a stone unturned when providing informative commentary on Bud Selig's predecessors and how the position has dramatically changed since the days of Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

If the Baseball Hall of Fame were to assemble a compilation of books that belong in a business of baseball canon, Lee Lowenfish's third edition of "Imperfect Diamond" would easily hold a prominent spot on the list. As someone who has read several literary contributions regarding the business of baseball and its labor issues, there are only two people in recent memory that have meticulously captured the essence of these topics: Andrew Zimbalist and Lee Lowenfish. I enthusiastically recommend this book and I am hopeful that Lowenfish will continue to add additional chapters and epilogues when deemed appropriate.







 
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