MLB Reserve Clause
"The most significant step in a progression of moves to limit player independence and control."
-Robert F. Burk, baseball author, about the Reserve Clause
"I loved baseball, and I loved a good fight, and, in my mind, ballplayers were among the most exploited workers in America."
-Marvin Miller, Director of MLB Players Association
"Players had been bought, sold, and traded as though they were sheep instead of American citizens. Like a fugitive slave law, the reserve clause denies him a harbor and a livelihood, and carries him back, bound and shackled, to the club from which he attempted to escape."
-John M. Ward, MLB player in the late 1800s and founder of the first Players Union
The MLB Reserve Clause was formally instituted in 1887 by the National League. The reason for its creation was to lower expenses by limiting players salaries.
The Reserve Clause was "a clause in the contract of a professional athlete that binds the player to a team for a season beyond the expiration of the contract unless a new contract has been made or the player has been sent to another team." (The Free Dictionary) The players had no say in who they played for. It gave the teams full control over salaries and terms of service.
"Legally, a contract must have a beginning and an end. But the Reserve Clause perpetuated this year after year. Even though you only had a one year contract, that clause in your contract perpetuated it until you died. As a matter of fact, if they resurrected Babe Ruth, the Yankees would still own him. That's how ironclad that clause in the contract was."