At 12:01 a.m. on April 1, 1972, the first collective players’ strike in Major League Baseball history begins. The strike lasts 12 days, ending on April 13, and 86 games are cancelled, throwing the season into flux from the start.
The cause of baseball’s first strike was the expiration of the league’s three-year pension agreement. The Major League Baseball Players Association, led by seasoned union negotiator Marvin Miller, had made modest requests to increase benefits. However, the owners balked at the proposals, and never took the players’ threat to strike seriously.
In his book, A Whole Different Ballgame, Miller wrote: “The last thing I expected in 1972 was a strike. The owners had decided to bring the Players Association’s progress to a halt either by provoking a strike, which they felt confident of winning, or by forcing the players to back down and accept their unreasonable position in the negotiations.”
As it turned out, the players were prepared to take control of their own destiny. In fact, the players voted 663-10 in favor of authorizing their executive committee to call a strike. MLBPA general counsel Dick Moss advised the players that it was not the right time to strike because they had yet to be paid that season and didn’t have a strike fund. But the players stood their ground.
Oakland A’s star Reggie Jackson yelled at a meeting with Miller and Moss: “Goddammit, there are just times when you’ve got to stand up for your rights!” Although the players were not paid for the 12 days of the strike, their effort ultimately was a success. Owners agreed to a $500,000 increase in the pension fund and to allow salary arbitration.
The 1972 MLB season yielded some bizarre results from the strike—some teams only played 153 games instead of the customary 162. The Detroit Tigers won the AL East by a half-game over the Boston Red Sox, who played one fewer game than the Tigers.