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David Elkin

dmelkin@jaws.greatwhite.com
5231 Morningside Rd
Las Cruces, NM 88011
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And the Budman now cometh


Baseball by Dummies

I intend to briefly overview the development of baseball since the time of free agency. This overview will deal with the business of baseball, not the game itself. It will touch upon the personalities of the game, owners, union leaders, agents and ballplayers. Much of the factual material is from a tremendous book by John Helyar called the "Lords of the Realm", published in 1994, before the strike. He ends his volume thusly: "The Lords and the agents, the lawyers and the czars, had done their best to kill baseball. There was something about the national pastime that the people in it behave badly. They were, perhaps, blinded by the light of what it represented- a glowing distillate of America. Men fought to control it as though they could own it. They wallowed in dubious battle, locked in ugly trench warfare for dominion over the green fields. The money poured into the game and men gorged and gouged over it-made damned fools of themselves over it. And the fans, ever forgiving, were still there." Then came the strike! A couple of very important points must be made. Any time a large amount of money is thrown at an organization, everybody and everything changes. It is true of a family that wins the lottery, a business who expands too quickly and especially for a very large and diverse group of people who encompass Major League Baseball. Many of us who are APBA fans grew up watching baseball in the 60ís and the 70ís. (Note-APBA is a game company who has made a baseball simulation since 1953 using dice and cards. It started a computer simulation in the 80's. This is not an arcade game but a statistical replay system.) We actually lived during the introduction of free agency, strikes and mega contracts. For that group of baby boomers, our perceptions are colored from our experience. My twelve year old does not marvel at guys with 4.50 eras getting over a million dollars to play ball, does not comment on 6 year contracts to a pitcher that has had just one outstanding season. We still do. Keep that in mind. It is also important to recognize that living during this chaotic time distorts our view. I still remember when I could name every starting lineup in the Majors. We got our baseball through the radio, maybe we lucked out when our team was on the "Game of the Week". We knew certain truths; hard work was rewarded, baseball was the great equalizer, the Yankees usually won, and other sports were just something to occupy our time till the real season started. There is a natural instinct in all of us to treasure our heroes, to quickly disdain change. It was jammed down our throats. I write this piece not to condemn, but to understand. I approach the game as I did long ago. The former Eagle, Don Henley put it this way: Iíve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter But I think itís about forgiveness Forgiveness Even if, even if you donít love me. It has been very hard to discover that they never did, but the game is still that beauty of the play, the extra-inning classic of the 97 series, Cal Ripken breaking Gehrigís record, chasing Ruth and Maris and "just" knowing that this year your team will win. A phone rings, it is October 1969. Curt Flood answers and learns he has been traded to Philadelphia with McCarver, Horner and Byron Browne for Richie Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. After reflecting for a month, he contacts a chap named Marvin Miller saying he wantís to challenge the reserve system. It would be the shot heard round the baseball and sport world. The history of this lawsuit is well known. Marvin Miller would become more important than the ballplayers, and the owners would resist change. They would lose. How they lost is the tragedy of the story. They would attack, bully, collude, and bluster. They would trade players rather than negotiate. They would man the ramparts, attacking individuals and unions. They just really did not understand. In the late 60ís the real power in ownership was Walter OíMalley. He had lead the exodus to the West Coast and when he spoke, Bowie Kuhn listened. The new basic agreement for 1970 offered by ownership was this: The minimum salary was to be raised to $12,000 per year, no more than a 30% pay cut to be allowed and the severance pay was increased from 30 days to 60. However, the players union wanted a change in the grievance and arbitration systems. Bowie Kuhn would not hear of it. He proclaimed "Iíll accept no diminution of the power of the commissioner" In intense negotiations, it was worked out that Bowie would still handle such situations as the integrity of the game and public confidence but an arbitrator would handle everything else. Everything else turned into a flood of grievances. The "paternalistic" relationship between ball players and owners began to crumble. March 31, 1972. The pension agreement comes up again. The owners are convinced they can "bust" the union. They try. Six ballplayers have made it to $125,000 per year, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Howard, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson. Other players wanted more. Steve Carlton demands a doubling of his salary to $50,000. Gussie Busch sends him to Philadelphia; he ships Jerry Reuss off for wanting another $5,000. He wins another 198 games. The rebellion of the 60ís has hit baseball and the old guard owners will not hear of it. Gussie is just one of many hard-headed owners. On March 22, the owners decide to call the unionís bluff. No more money, if you want to strike, go ahead. The union backs down. They will negotiate during the season. Play ball! Miller meets with the player reps. They are not ready to concede. They vote, go on strike March 31. The owners barrage the press, their players. How could you. You are ungrateful. The fans cannot believe it! They are making so much money to play ball. The Player Association is under siege. It lasts only to April 15. No one views baseball the same ever again. The union wins the battle, gets the extra money, but the fans never forget. Another problem looms. Ted Simmons will not sign his contract for 1972. He was offered $14,000 after hitting .304 and catching 133 games. Bing Devine (the cards gm) threatens him. Simmons still plays, hitting .340 by mid-season. He is going to be the test case for the union. During the all-star break he is offered a two-year contract, $30,000 for 1972 and $45,000 for 1973. He signs. No test case for Miller, but he now has a much better insight into the owners. They do not want to see the reserve clause ruled on by an arbitrator. The start of the 1973 season finds5 players taking the field without a contract. Four of them sign later and the 5th is cut. Seven more go the route in 1974, but six sign before the season ends. Bobby Tolan goes the distance. Miller files a grievance, seeking to declare Tolan a free agent. Two days before the hearing, the Padres offer him a $100,000 contract for 1974 and 1975. He signs, no test case. In 1974 Catfish Hunter gets a $100,000 contract from Charlie Finley. The contract calls for $50,000 to be to Hunter and another $50,000 to be put into an annuity insurance fund. Hunter pitches brilliantly during the season, the playoffs and the World Series. Finley finds out that the second 50 grand in not tax deductible. He wants the Catfish to take the money, Hunter says no. Miller contacts Hunter and asks the cat if he wants the union help. Right after the World Series the union claims Catfish Hunter should be a free agent. The arbitrator is Peter Seitz. He rules that Finley must pay the $50,00 and the contract is terminated. Miller tells Seitz that the free agency question is still up in the air. Seitz replies "Mr. Hunterís contract for service to be performed during the 1975 season no longer binds him and he is a free agent". The decision is rendered on December 13, 1974. Bowie Kuhn immediately steps in and forbids any bidding on Hunter. Six days later Kuhn relents and the bidding wars start. Ah, the beginning of free agencyÖÖ.. Baseball by Dummies, part II On December 19, 1974 the race to catch the catfish was on. All roads led to Ahoskie, North Carolina and a country lawyer by the name of J. Carlton Cherry, a 68 year old man who most of the time dealt with peanut and soybean farmers. Only two owners would not make an effort to sign Jim Hunter, Charlie Finley, who had lost him, and Horace Stoneham, who was broke. This was new ground. In 1974 the average salary was $35,000 and the top salary was $250,000. Mr. Hunter wanted money but he wanted something else, a five year guaranteed contract. The owners could not believe it. He wanted millions, and he wanted a long term contract. Unheard of! Still they came, and so did the offers. The Mets offer $2 million, the Red Sox offer $3 million. The next day the San Diego group arrives to bid. Included in the group is Jim Hunterís old pitching coach Bill Posedel. Jim really liked him, even naming one of his hunting dogs Posedel. The owner of the Padres was Ray Kroc, the McDonaldís Hamburger man. Kroc wanted a winner, now! His restaurant chain generated a billion a year. He could afford the services of Jim Hunter. Mr. Cherry comes right to the point, can the Padres afford $4 million? Peter Bavasi, who had told Kroc he figured the cost to be around $100,00 a year for four years, replies we want him and if that is what it takes, so be it. Mr. Posedel nearly falls off his chair. Cherry writes down the conditions: 5 years guaranteed, deferred money, farmland and some other minor points, totaling 3.8 million dollars. Bavasi says he must contact Kroc and the party leaves with Posedel wondering if they will all be fired. Bavasi contacts Mr. Kroc, who is out sailing on his yacht, the Joni Ray. The ship to shore line is static filled, they can barely hear each other. Kroc says how much, Bavasi replies $4 million. Kroc says "outstanding", you signed him for $400,000. Bavasi says, no sir, $ 4 million. "Four damned million" roars Kroc. Bavasi hears Krocís wife in the background. Mr. Kroc, showing the wisdom of the vast majority of the owners from the 70ís, tells her, "Shut up, I told you to shut up. If I want to spend four million of a ballplayer, I will. If I want to spend 12 million , I will. Joni, itís my goddamn money and Iíll do what I want". Kroc tells Bavasi to go and get it done, and he hurries back to the law offices of Mr. Cherry. Cherry and Bavasi shake hands, waiting for the lawyers from San Diego to work out the paper work. Bavasi does not leave, because there are other contingents trying to get a deal done. Yet one by one teams drop out, the Mets, the Cardinals, the Twins, the Angels. Kansas City had offered the same money, but Catfish Hunter does not want to play there. It looks like he will sign with San Diego. On Christmas Eve, Bavasi heads home after being assured that the deal will be signed by Cherry, who told him that he should be home for Christmas and not to worry about the details. He left too soon. It is not only the owners who were the "dummies", it was the ballplayers, the lawyers and the agents as well. Mr. Bavasi had ever right to be convinced he was dealing with an honorable man. Mr. Cherry was still willing to listen to offers. A mighty intriguing offer was soon forthcoming. George Steinbrenner was interested. Alas, he had been suspended for his activities with Mr. Richard Nixon for two years. George had appointed a "good" baseball man to run the team for him, Gabe Paul. Gabe was really not that interested but did send an emissary, Clyde Kluttz, the Yankee scouting director. He had signed Hunter 10 years earlier for the Oakland Aís. Hunter grows tired of waiting. On New Yearís Eve he tells his wife he is going to sign with somebody, today. Kluttz, still in town, asks him what would it take to get him to come to New York? They offer a package of 3.5 million over 5 years. Hunter rushes off to see Cherry. Cherry tells him this is the 3rd best offer. Hunter says I want New York. Cherry turns to Kluttz and says "He is a Yankee". It was also mentioned that Gabe Paul had breakfasted with Steinbrenner that morning. Soon after Bavasi and the San Diego lawyers call Cherry. One of the legal chaps starts out asking that Hunter do some McDonald ads. Mr. Cherry brusquely replies that Hunter does not endorse products, he plays ball. The deal is dead. Mr. Cherry does not bother to explain what has really happened. Hunter flies off to New York, signs the deal and is back in North Carolina before the big ball drops down ending 1974. The owners looked toward the future with trepidation. Still, Hunterís case was unique. If Finley had meet his original demand for deferred payment, the arbitrator would have never been involved. So it looked like that Jim Hunter had gotten the main course, and that important "all inclusive" test case needed by Marvin Miller was still missing. All Marvin would get would be salary arbitration for his union. No free agency, by God! However to be fair, the owners, led by the PRC chairman and head of the Milwaukee ownership group, Ed Fitzgerald, decide to offer something else instead of free agency, They would agree to go outside to an independent person for salary justice. It will end holdouts, save money. Bowie Kuhn agrees, so does Walter OíMalley. Only Charlie Finley and Dick Meyer of the Cardinals disagree. They warn it will drive up salaries. The owners vote 22-2 in favor of arbitration. It will forestall free agency. Marvin is determined to destroy the reserve clause. Arbitration and a pitcher by the name of Andy Messersmith will soon give him that chance. The Catfish Hunter derby showed Baseball at a crossroads. The great tragedy for baseball that the owners did not want any change. They were unwilling or unable to allow change to come gradually. They were distrustful of the ballplayers, union organizers and each other. The players felt they deserved more. So they did. Yet the change wrought by this combustible combination of greed and stupidity still impact the game today. The personalities involved caused it to happen, but you could change the names and it would have still happened. The fans would pay for the mistakes made on both sides of the table. Charlie Finley was a maverick, hated by his fellow owners. He was greedy and he badgered his players about everything. So when Hunter discovered he had a union case, he went for it. Marvin Miller stayed consistent, he was looking for a way to destroy the reserve clause. Miller had seen what free agency could do for player salaries. If they went up, so would the power and value of the union. Bowie Kuhn and the majority of the owners did not grasp long range consequences. When Finley warned them, they just ignored him as they always had. Cherry and Hunter did not emerge as Lilly-white saints either. They went for the brass ring, but after agreeing verbally with San Diego, they backed out at the last minute. Hunter would pitch well for New York, winning 23 in 1975, 17 in 1976, only 9 in 1977 due to injuries, 12 in 1978, again injured for a part of the season, and fall to a 2-9 record in 1979, the last year of his contract. New York would go to the World Series 3 times during Hunterís contract, 1976, 1977 and 1978. Hunter would win only 1 post-season game, but it would clinch the 1978 World Series. George would become convinced that the way to the pennant was to buy it. The Florida Marlins of last year are but the latest example. To be able to buy a championship, you must first have free agency. Marvin Miller would do his damnedest to get it done. Baseball by Dummies, part III So Catfish got his fishing bait taken care of forever. What did Marvin Miller get? No free agency, not yet. He did get, however, salary arbitration. Ed Fitzgerald, the PRC chairman of baseball argued that it was time to take away Marvin Millerís argument about unfair treatment. No, the reserve clause still stands but how about allowing ballplayers to go to outside parties for fair treatment. The benefits would be outstanding. It would end salary holdouts, it would neutralize Marvinís meddling with the antitrust exemption status of baseball and finally it would save the ownerís money! Bowie Kuhn backed it as did most of the owners. Only Charlie O fought it. He screamed " Weíll be the nationís biggest assholes if we do this! Ö. Give them anything they want, but donít give them arbitration." The vote was 22 in favor, 2 opposed. In 1974, the first case was ruled on. Holdouts declined. It seemed to be working. Marvin still wanted free agency but needed the big break. It is important to remember the historical context of the people playing, running and reporting baseball to America. The owners had grown up during or just after the depression. Money had been non-existent for most Americans and ballplayers who made over a $100,000 a year should be thrilled to be playing. The players had grown up during the 60ís where freedom of expression and questioning of authority had become a way of life. The Vietnam War had ended in disaster and we had witnessed the end of Richard Nixon. The moral change sweeping the U. S. encompassed baseball and changed it forever. The reporting of baseball had members of many generations. The days of closing your eyes to conduct on and off the field were gone. Many felt it was time to "tell it like it is". It was a decade of questioning everything and everybody. In 1974, Andy Messersmith won 20 games for the L. A. Dodgers and helped them win the national league pennant, making $90,000 for the year. He wanted a raise. Andy reported to spring training without a signed contract. He met with the Dodgers GM, Al Campanis. During the negotiations, Messersmith and Campanis somehow got embroiled over some type of personal issue. No one knows (other than the participants) what it was. The result was that Messersmith was infuriated and broke off all negotiations. He demanded to deal with Peter OíMalley, the Dodgers president. He also demanded that the contract include a "no-trade" clause. OíMalley negotiated but would not agree to the no-trade aspect. Messersmith refused to sign. Messersmith, reflecting later upon his decision, stated "I never went into this for the glory and betterment of the Players Association. At the start it was personal. Al Campanis had stirred my anger, and it became a pride issue. When I get stubborn, I get very stubborn." He pitched the 75 season without a contract, winning 19 and starting a league-leading 40 games and pitched a total of 322 innings, also the top of the league. His ERA was second best in the league at 2.29. Yet it was a very tough season for Andy, as everybody focused on his non-signed status. He said "I remember being very alone". In September of that year, the Dodgers would offer him a 3 year deal; $150,000 for 75, $170,000 for 76 and $220,000 for 77. Yet, no movement on the "no-trade" clause. It had never been offered in baseball, and nobody in ownership wanted the L. A. Dodgers to break with the ranks or the tradition. So Messersmith continued to pitch without a contract. Meanwhile Miller wasnít sure that Andy would be his test case for free agency. What if he filed and then Andy decided to sign. It was tough to turn down that amount of money. Another name came to mind, another pitcher. Dave McNally had been a solid pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles but had been sent off to the Montreal Expos at the end of the 74 season. Dave and the Expos could not get together on his 75 contract. He pitched very poorly at the start of the 75 season with a sore arm. He finally quit on June 8, still unsigned. Dave decided he was done with baseball and went bent to his Ford Dealership in Billings, Montana. In the fall of 75 Marvin Miller called Dave McNally and asked if he was ever going to play again. Dave said no. Miller asked him if he would sign a grievance for the union in case Messersmith signed a Dodgers contract. McNally replied "If you need me, Iím willing to help" The phone rings a few days later and Dave McNally is stunned to hear the voice of John McHale, the Expos president. He says he happens to be passing through Billings and wonders if he can meet with Dave to discuss his future. Amazingly, McHale offers Dave $125,000 for the 1976 season plus a $25,000 signing bonus. McNally tells him that he isnít sure he can even pitch anymore. No problem, says McHale, I will pay you $25,000 just to sign and come to spring training. McNally promises to consider it. The next day, he calls Marvin Miller and reports the events. Miller asks him what are you going to do? McNally tells him that "McHale wasnít honest with me last year, and Iím not going to trust him again. Itís temptingÖ.but I have no intention of playing, and it wouldnít be right to take the money." With two players on board the union filed the Messersmith and McNally grievances in October of 1975. The ownerís counterattacked. The baseball lawyers filed for an injunction, trying to keep the case out of arbitration. The courts ruled against them. The current arbitrator was still Peter Seitz, the guy who let Catfish become a free-agent. The owners were not sure. Finley deserved that ruling, he was guilty. The PRC decided to keep him. In late November, the hearings on John A. Messersmith v. Los Angles Dodgers began. Dick Moss would argue "This case involves one thing, and only one thing, the interpretation of the phrase in Paragraph 10A of the Uniform Players Contract which says, íThe club shall have the right to renew this contract for the period of one year on the same terms.í Lou Hoynes, one of the owners attorneys, would argue brilliant, citing historical precedent after precedent. It was basically a defense that cried out "We have always done it this way". Bowie Kuhn would testify to Mr. Seitz that "The reserve system is the cornerstone of baseball. It gave baseball the stability, economic stability, to develop a system where you were able to eliminate the problems of integrityÖ." Kuhn went on to say that if the reserve clause was eliminated that it was quite possible to lose one of the major leagues. The two sides would take three days to make their arguments and fill 842 pages of transcripts. Seitz did not want to make a decision. In December he met with both Marvin Miller and John Gaherin(PRC negotiator). Seitz told them, "This may be the most serious grievance Iíve ever been asked to deal with. If I decide this, somebodyís going to get hurtÖ..Look, take this case out of my hands negotiate with the players and settle your differences." The PRC members met trying to decide what to do. Gaherin argued strongly for negotiations. Hoynes argued against it, feeling they had a 50% chance of winning. The PRC decided to pass the buck, involving the entire ownership group. Gaherin addressed the group reporting that if Seitz arbitrated they would lose. The owners howled at him, demanding to know how much money he would lose in this decision. Gaherin called Miller and said the owners would not negotiate. It was time for a decision. On December 23, Seitz delivered. "The grievances of Messersmith and McNally are sustained. There is no contractual bond between these players and the Los Angeles and the Montreal Clubs, respectively." Baseball fired their arbitrator the same day. Reactions were varied but expected. Ownership bewailed the end of baseball. Miller had won and was happy. Andy Messersmith was happy too, but more for the others than himself. He said "I didnít do it necessarily for myself because I Ďm making a lot of money". Andy and the rest of baseball would find out what a "lot of money" really was. Meanwhile the ranks of ownership continued to change. The owners still felt that they could "control the situation". They had survived Finley, they could weather anything. Nobody would go crazy over Messersmith. Nobody, except Ted Turner! END OF PART 3 This is an ongoing work updated on a somewhat haphazard basis. I appreciate comments and criticisms(well, not too much criticism).

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Links to related topics

Major League Baseball Labor Turmoil: Excellent and Scholarly look at Labor History
APBA Game Company On Line Catalog: A great place to recreate baseball without the labor problems
Jackie Robinson Memorial Baseball League: A retro APBA League I play in
Welcome to Total Baseball: A great baseball site, past and present.
Society for American Baseball Research: For the truly dedicated fan