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When did baseball become MLB?
November 24, 2010 2:32 PM   Subscribe

When did Major League Baseball (TM) begin?

I'm copyediting a text that refers to Curt Flood's suit against "Major League Baseball." I lowercased it, being pretty sure that there was no such thing back in 1970 (just a couple of leagues with a loose overall organization), but thought I'd check to make sure. The obvious place to look was the Wikipedia article, but it turned out to be a wretched disappointment, with absolutely no historical discussion of MLB as a trademarked/capitalized entity; as Shakescene writes on the talk page, "on first glance this whole article looks as if it came from MLB.com, as if there were such a thing in 1969 or 1935." I've googled around to no avail. So I turn to AskMe: does anybody know when MLB, as an official entity deserving of capital letters, was created?
posted by languagehat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
The oldest trademark for Major League Baseball that I could find (#955967, for the red/white MLB logo with the silhouette of a baseball player) was filed on December 3, 1968, by Major League Baseball Promotion Corporation with a claimed first use of August 16, 1968. So Major League Baseball was a distinct entity by at least that time.
posted by zsazsa at 2:45 PM on November 24, 2010


According to this, the American and National Leagues have had a joint organizational structure since 1903; you might want to see when the term MLB or "Major League Baseball" was trademarked.
posted by TedW at 2:52 PM on November 24, 2010


That Wikipedia article has a section on differing definitions of MLB's founding year:
For its founding year, Major League Baseball (the current official organization) uses 1869--the year the first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was established--and held official celebrations for its 100th anniversary in 1969 and its 125th anniversary in 1994, both of which were commemorated with league-wide shoulder patches. The modern Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves franchises trace their histories back to the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in the early 1870s. Many believe that the formation of the National League in 1876 is the beginning of Major League Baseball. Others believe the signing of the National Agreement in 1903 (two seasons after the American League's formation in 1901) is the true beginning of Major League Baseball.
The 1903 National Agreement describes the American and National Leagues as "known and designated herein as Major Leagues." The 1921 Major League Agreement uses "major leagues" generically. According to Wikipedia's article on the history of baseball in the United States, "In the late 1990s, functions that had been administered separately by the two major leagues' administrations were united under the rubric of Major League Baseball."
posted by kirkaracha at 2:56 PM on November 24, 2010


The concept of a united "major league" of baseball was established with the formation of the National Commission in 1903, which also established the Major League Baseball Constitution, and the organization was further clarified by the creation of a commissioner's office in 1920. Flood's suit was leveled at Bowie Kuhn, the then-commissioner of baseball, who was the titular negotiating head between baseball and the player's union.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:00 PM on November 24, 2010


Actually, it looks like Flood's suit was not against "Major League Baseball". In his complaint plaintiff named as defendants each of the twelve clubs in each of the two major leagues, and, also, in the antitrust cause of action, the presidents of each league, Charles S. Feeney and Joseph E. Cronin, and the Commissioner of Baseball, Bowie K. Kuhn, individually and in their respective official capacities.
posted by zsazsa at 3:01 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Major League Baseball Players Association was founded in 1953.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:03 PM on November 24, 2010


> That Wikipedia article has a section on differing definitions of MLB's founding year

Yes, I read that, but I don't think it's relevant to my question.

> According to Wikipedia's article on the history of baseball in the United States, "In the late 1990s, functions that had been administered separately by the two major leagues' administrations were united under the rubric of Major League Baseball."

That's highly relevant, but infuriatingly vague. When in the late 1990s? (Though it does rule out 1970, so thanks!)

> The Major League Baseball Players Association was founded in 1953.

Again, that's irrelevant; if there were an Apple Pie Association, it would have capital letters even though "apple pie" doesn't.

> The oldest trademark for Major League Baseball that I could find (#955967, for the red/white MLB logo with the silhouette of a baseball player) was filed on December 3, 1968, by Major League Baseball Promotion Corporation

Thanks! That would seem to be relevant, but it's not clear to me that the existence of the trademarked symbol establishes Major League Baseball as an entity that necessarily requires capital letters. I'm guessing the "late 1990s" date is more definitive.
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on November 24, 2010


I'm copyediting a text that refers to Curt Flood's suit against "Major League Baseball."

If the text references a specific lawsuit, you should be looking not at the history of the MLB but at the actual party named in as a defendant in Flood's lawsuit. You need to know who, exactly, he sued (and, probably, who answered the complaint, in case he erroneously sued someone other than the correct entity).
posted by The World Famous at 3:27 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anheuser-Busch is currently suing MLB, and they're named in the suit as Major League Baseball Properties Inc. Searching the New York Department of State, Division of Corporations for "major league baseball" brings up this listing for that entity, and shows it was originally filed in 1966 as "Major League Baseball Promotion Corporation." The address matches the one listed on their LinkedIn page, so it seems to be the right entity.

(I'm not even much of a baseball fan, but for some reason I found this question so fascinating I had to go digging to see if I could find the answer, or at least help. Weird!)
posted by Gator at 3:42 PM on November 24, 2010


Hilariously, as Gator posted above I found this article from 1996 which has the MLB lawyers contending "that the league is a trademark and not a legal entity subject to suit." So?
posted by grapesaresour at 3:51 PM on November 24, 2010


O.K. So, here's the Supreme Court opinion in Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972).

I note that, in the opinion, the Court refers to the Major League Baseball Players Association (capitalized), but that Justice Marshall's dissent begins "Petitioner was a major league baseball player from 1956, when he signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds, until 1969, when his 12-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, which had obtained him from the Reds, ended and he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies." Now, Justice Marshall may not have been referring to the entity "Major League Baseball," but rather simply to baseball played in the major leagues. But it's hard to tell in that context.

He also writes "To non-athletes it might appear that petitioner was virtually enslaved by the owners of major league baseball clubs who bartered among themselves for his services." Again, no caps.

Again, he writes "We must not forget, however, that there are only some 600 major league baseball players." Again, no caps.

Finally, see the following, also from the dissent: "It is the collective-bargaining representative for all major league baseball players."

To be technically correct, it appears, Curt Flood did not sue Major League Baseball or major league baseball. He sued the Commissioner of Baseball.
Looking at the original lawsuit (316 F. Supp. 271), the named defendant was Bowie K. Kuhn, sued individually and as "Commissioner of Baseball."
posted by The World Famous at 3:59 PM on November 24, 2010


For what it's worth, contemporaneous New York Times reporting of the Curt Flood case has it lower-cased. So, you almost certainly got that part right. (all emphasis mine)
posted by mhum at 4:01 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right, be careful with the "Major League Baseball Promotion Corporation" stuff, it was probably a corporation set up jointly by the two then-legally independent leagues. I was reading about this stuff recently, and while I can't point you to anything better than you've got above, I'm also pretty sure that Major League Baseball didn't exist as a single entity until the 1990s.
posted by auto-correct at 4:09 PM on November 24, 2010


You need to know who, exactly, he sued (and, probably, who answered the complaint, in case he erroneously sued someone other than the correct entity).

Yep, I agree and was just looking for that myself. Unfortunately the best I could find online was that the case is "Flood v. [baseball commissioner Bowie K.] Kuhn, et al." But I haven't been able to find out who the "et al." is. Might be necessary to consult with a law librarian to see if they can find the text of the actual complaint, or maybe there's a MeFite law librarian who could.

On preview: The World Famous, both the Supreme Court and Appeals Court opinions refer to the case as Flood v. Kuhn et al.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:10 PM on November 24, 2010


Oh, the article I linked above also describes Major League Baseball Properties as "the licensing agent for the trademarks of Major League Baseball and its 28 clubs" and as the 2nd defendant in that case. So It does seem to be separate from the MLB proper.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:27 PM on November 24, 2010


Gah. You're right. It looks like one of the other defendants was Joseph E. Cronin, President of American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, and all American League Clubs. But the Appeals Court opinion does not appear to list all of the defendants.
posted by The World Famous at 4:30 PM on November 24, 2010


> If the text references a specific lawsuit, you should be looking not at the history of the MLB but at the actual party named in as a defendant in Flood's lawsuit.

Yeah, I checked that out and found the same stuff as you guys; I should have made it clearer that although that was what sparked off the question, I'm equally determined to know the answer whatever the actual defendant in the lawsuit was. It really bothered me to see that capitalized "Major League Baseball" throughout the Wikipedia article, and I wanted to know how far back it made sense. I'd like to scrub all pre-1990s references of those damn capitals and add a statement about when the Entity came into existence (fully referenced, of course).
posted by languagehat at 4:33 PM on November 24, 2010


If you have access to a good Westlaw account, you should be able to pull the actual briefs from the case, which should have a full caption.
posted by The World Famous at 4:35 PM on November 24, 2010


In the ruling from the United States Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit in Flood v Kuhn they say the other defendants are "each of the twelve clubs in each of the two major leagues, and, also, in the antitrust cause of action, the presidents of each league, Charles S. Feeney and Joseph E. Cronin, and the Commissioner of Baseball, Bowie K. Kuhn, individually and in their respective official capacities," so no Major League Baseball.

This is bugging the shit out of me now.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:41 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


In further searches, I've come across a number of other lawsuits (only in recent years) involving "Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, doing business as Major League Baseball," which does seem to be a distinct entity (of some sort...?) from Major League Baseball Properties Inc., as auto-correct suggested above. There are a lot of references on Wikipedia and elsewhere to the fact that the National League and the American League were dissolved as distinct legal entities in the year 2000 and brought under the rubric of MLB. But I've come across a lot of references to people suing MLB before 2000. Argh.
posted by Gator at 5:02 PM on November 24, 2010


The earliest instance I could find so far of an upper-cased "major league baseball" in a NYT article comes from 1989: Also notable is the article "It's Not Major League Baseball" by Dave Anderson (Mar. 16, 1996), which explicitly calls out the difference:
... Major League Baseball is about to be a masquerade party. When the season opens, Major League Baseball apparently has no intention of providing major league baseball.

Major League Baseball, remember is the club owners' corporate logo. Major League Baseball is how they advertise their product.

But when the season opens with all these replacement players, Major League Baseball won't be supplying that product to its consumers.
Just through a casual scan of articles, I'd say that after this article, the NYT started upper-casing "Major League Baseball" far more frequently and consistently. What muddies the waters here is precisely the difference that Dave Anderson points out between "major league baseball" as a generic, abstract term and "Major League Baseball", the organization of 16 to 30 teams (depending on the era). It seems to me that since the 1994-95 strike, there's been a more concentrated effort on the part of the MLB to make sure people don't make that distinction -- that a major league baseball player is, by definition, a Major League Baseball player. But, that might just be me.

Also, we can go beyond the NYT house style and search the ads in the NYT archive where we find the following two pieces of copy, both from ads for Herman's World of Sporting Goods: On the other hand, we have this line from a Sports Illustrated ad from Sept. 24, 1982: "And we'll continue to follow college football and the major league baseball pennant races...". I think the difference between these two examples speaks once again to the difference between "mlb" and "MLB". If Sports Illustrated ran that same line today, I'd bet dollars to donuts that they'd capitalize it.
posted by mhum at 5:38 PM on November 24, 2010


Whoops. The Dave Anderson article is from Mar. 16, 1995 not 1996.
posted by mhum at 5:39 PM on November 24, 2010


While there was definitely a lot of administrative merging in the late 1990s and the two leagues still existed as separate legal entities until 2000, it looks like by 1993 there was already a "Major League Baseball" (separate from the Major League Baseball Promotion Corp, the Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee which bargains with the players' union, etc), which appears to be a change that occured sometime after 1976 (yeah, huge range, I know):

From KANSAS CITY ROYALS BASEBALL CORPORATION v. MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION (1976):

The leagues, which are unincorporated associations comprised of the Major League Clubs, and their counsel fall within these categories.


From Piazza v. Major League Baseball (1993):

Plaintiffs describe defendant Major League Baseball as an unincorporated association comprised of two professional leagues, the American League and the National League, and their 28 professional baseball teams. In addition to Major League Baseball, plaintiffs have named the following as defendants: American League of Professional Baseball Clubs; National League of Professional Baseball Clubs; Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball; Ed Kuhlmann; The Orioles, Inc [and the rest of the teams]...

From Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball (2001):

Defendant Major League Baseball is an unincorporated association whose members include the Major League Baseball Clubs (Clubs). The Clubs acted collectively to create the Office of the Commissioner which, in turn, produced and distributed media guides to the press at All-Star and World Series games.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:22 AM on November 25, 2010


IANA sports fan, but I AM a radio nerd, and my memory is that "MLB's" preposterous legal disclaimer ("Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this game, without the written consent of Major League Baseball, is expressly prohibited", or whatever the exact wording is) was still a new thing in the late '80s.

(Offhand, the best evidence I have for this is that I can recall laughing myself sick over a Bob & Ray parody of this disclaimer - and Ray died in 1990.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:09 PM on November 25, 2010


Excellent work, all. So the impression I'm getting is that it indeed dates back to around the late '80s, but that there's no single moment one can point to and reference (in order to, say, clean up the Wikipedia article). It's more a matter of the MLB powers that be gradually colonizing everything, including the past.
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on November 26, 2010


Belated addenda:
-- The original 1921 Major League Agreement did not mention Major League Baseball.
-- The current version, however (entitled the Major League Constitution) includes this: "The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball is an incorporated association also doing business as Major League Baseball and has as its members the Major League Baseball Clubs."
-- According to MLB's page on the history of the commissioner's office, when Peter Ueberroth was elected commissioner in 1984, "To entice Uerberroth, the clubs again expanded the Commissioner's powers by amending the Major League Agreement so that the two league presidents were required to answer to the Commissioner with respect to administrative matters. This change made the Commissioner the chief executive officer of baseball." Up to this point, baseball operated with the 2 major leagues as separate entities, each electing their own president, and the function of the commissioner had not been as a true chief executive.
-- I suspect that the "also doing business as Major League Baseball" came in with the 1984 Ueberroth-related amendments consolidating the leagues under one powerful business office headed by the commissioner.
posted by beagle at 7:06 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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