Ward graduated from Columbia Law School in 1885 and led the players in forming the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports labor union. Ward and the players had become frustrated with the owners’ reserve clause, which allowed them to sign players to one-year contracts and then not allow them to negotiate with other teams when those contracts expired. The players felt that the owners had absolute power. At first, the players had some success, gaining the freedom to negotiate with other teams when they were asked to take a pay cut by their current team. In October 1887, Ward married actress Helen Dauvray.
In 1888, after the Giants had finished first in the National League, and had won a playoff series known today as a “World Series”, they played the St. Louis Browns of the American Association for the “Dauvray Cup”, which was named after Ward’s wife. Ward and a group of all stars then headed off on a barnstorming world tour. The owners held their winter meetings, and created a classification system that would determine a player’s salary. Under the system, the most a player could earn was $2,500. The Giants then sold Ward to the Washington Nationals for a record price of $12,000. Ward was furious and left the tour early. He then demanded a meeting with the owners, and said he would refuse to play for Washington unless he received a large portion of his record sale price. Washington eventually refused payment on the transaction, nullifying the deal.
The owners denied Ward’s request for a meeting to discuss the new classification system, saying no talks would be held until after the upcoming season. Though Ward and the union fought hard for these issues, this did not distract him or his Giants team, as he hit .299 and helped the Giants capture their second-straight “World Series” title in 1889.