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And the Budman now cometh
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
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
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
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
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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