Shea: What the NBA could learn from baseball

Nov 16 2011 - 3:23pm

The NFL lockout lasted 136 days. The NBA lockout is in its 139th day. By contrast, Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 11, but a settlement through 2017 is expected soon.

That means MLB, which had eight strikes/lockouts from 1972 to 1995, now is envisioning 22 consecutive years of labor peace.

I asked Bill Gould, emeritus professor at Stanford Law School who was instrumental in ending baseball's 1994-95 strike, why basketball can't figure out, like baseball, how to peacefully divide the wealth.

Few know sports labor like Gould, whose new book, "Bargaining With Baseball: Labor Relations in an Age of Prosperous Turmoil," illustrates the law's impact on baseball history.

He pointed to three differences between the sports: -- The baseball union has maintained more aggressive stances than the basketball union, "the lack of which in basketball led (Commissioner David) Stern, who's a lawyer, to believe he could push the union around. And he's been right, until now at least," Gould said. "Baseball owners learned they can't push these (players) around." -- The NBA has more "marginal franchises with economically perilous circumstances" than MLB -- including Sacramento, Toronto and Memphis. "I don't think baseball has any teams like that," Gould said.

-- Race. "Look at who comes to NBA games and who has the money," Gould said. "Basketball has always had a problem because they're trying to appeal to a white fan base. The basketball union doesn't have as much leverage with fans as in baseball, but players generally don't have leverage with fans anyway."

As chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, appointed by President Bill Clinton, Gould cast the deciding vote to obtain an injunction that ended the strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series. To this day, some owners, who were intent on having a salary cap, hold it against him.


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