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Daily Record Commentary – Brooks’ gold glove in collective bargaining

September 29, 2023 News

Brooks’ gold glove in collective bargaining

By Commentary:

//September 28, 2023

Well-deserved accolades for Brooks Robinson are rolling in from all quarters after his death this week. The common sentiment is, as good a player as he was, Brooks was an even better man.

Many of these people fail to realize how true the statement is, or that there was a time when his principles ran so strong that he stridently withstood the boos of his hometown fans.

The date was April 16, 1972. It was not originally scheduled to be the home opener for the Orioles.  But, due to the first ever players’ strike in Major League Baseball, the original Opening Day had been canceled.

Whatever concern the owners had about the pension reorganization, it paled in comparison to their fear of Marvin Miller, the union organizer the players hired in 1966 to be the executive director of their union, the Major League Baseball Players Association. (It was dubbed an association because many players eschewed the idea of joining a “union.”)  Miller was an economist who brought the bare-knuckled representation of the United Steel Workers of America to the otherwise genteel, and owner-dominated, collective bargaining negotiations in baseball.

The owners viewed the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement in baseball before the 1972 season as an opportunity to bust the union. They calculated that players would never strike and give up their decent paychecks for playing what was, after all, a kid’s game. The owners though grossly underestimated the competitive heart of their athletes, who demonstrated a zeal for the labor fight that surprised even Miller.

Robinson did not have to accede to this request.  As he told the reporter, “I can think of a lot of other places I would prefer to be.” But he stood up for what he believed, stating: “If I have to get hard-nosed about something, though, I can be that way if I think I am right. And the longer this (strike) goes on, the more I am convinced that we are right.” Robinson then made the case that the owners were not being straightforward with the size of the pension surplus and that a neutral “actuary” should determine the true numbers.

Having a player of Brooks Robinson’s stature put his credibility and popularity on the line helped force the owners to cave. Indeed, Brooks had been asked, and agreed, to serve as the players’ representative for the Orioles because union leaders knew that a player of his ability and star power could not be mistreated by the team or sent packing, as often happened to union leaders.

After the strike of 1972 ended, the Orioles’ first game at Memorial Stadium was a tepid event. The Sun reported “scant adverse reaction” from the paltry crowd of 11,995 spectators. The Washington Post was less circumspect, stating “Mark this day down with the one when John Unitas was hanged in effigy.  Brooks Robinson was booed in Baltimore.”

When reporters questioned Robinson about the fans’ protest, he returned to his typical good-humored, upstanding self, stating, “I thought the fans, overall were just great.” He added, “I didn’t hear any boos…” but noted that “Booger [John ‘Boog’ Powell] took the pressure off me anyhow.  When Boog goes up there any time, they’re always hollering, ‘Booooog! Boooog. Boooog!”  A chant that was often mistaken for “boo.”

The “adverse reaction” to Robinson did not last long.  Fans, being fans, soon forgot their anger at losing two weeks of baseball once they were in the rhythm of the new season.

But history should not forget that the greatness of Brooks Robinson was not found only on the playing field or in his innumerable personable interactions with fans over the decades. His greatness was also found in the strength of his character. He took a stand for something he believed to be right and just; and he led the way for those who followed him to achieve and prosper beyond their wildest dreams.

Barry L. Gogel is a member of the sports law practice in the law firm of Rifkin Weiner Livingston, LLC.