LET’S GO BACK TO 1976 AND FEDERAL COURT IN KANSAS CITY. I’m not sure if Barry Bonds, Matt Holliday and C.C. Sabathia are religious people, but, you wouldn’t blame them for having shrines to Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith in their homes. Bonds, Holliday and Sabathia were recipients of some of the biggest free-agent signings in MLB history largely because of McNally and Messersmith, two pitchers who haven’t played in decades. On this date in 1976 a federal judge in Kansas City upheld a decision allowing McNally and Messersmith to hawk their wares to the highest bitter. They could bargain with which ever team they chose. They were free-agents.
With rare exceptions, players hadn’t been free agents since the late 1800s. When owners started raking in dough they realized that if players could sell their talents to the highest bidder salaries would skyrocket. So they instituted a reserve clause in contracts; even when a contract ended, and just about all of them were for one year only, a player’s fate remained with that team. The only recourse a dissatisfied player had was to hold out, not play. The only way he played for a different team is if he got traded.
Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals) and Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Players’ Union President Marvin Miller directing, decided to challenge the reserve clause. They played the 1975 season, their option years, without contracts, the thinking being when the option year lapsed the reserve clause ceased to exist. The owners’ position was that the reserve clause just kept renewing itself. The parties went to arbitration and arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the players. Major League Baseball appealed, thus today’s ruling. We’ve had free-agency ever since and salaries have… skyrocketed.
Associated Press (AP), February 5, 1976, Kansas City, Missouri
More on the reserve clause
TODAY’S STORY TAKES US BACK TO SAN FRANCISCO IN 1970.
Baseball great Willie Mays spoke out in favor of major league baseball owners on this date in baseball history.
The San Francisco Giant outfielder told broadcaster and former player Joe Garagiola, “If players control the game it is going to be bad. Owners must make some money, too.”
Mays’ comments were in reference to Curt Flood. The St. Louis Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood refused to report in protest of baseball’s reserve clause which put the player’s future totally in the hands of the team that held his contract.
Mays didn’t criticize Flood, only saying, “That’s a personal thing. For myself I want to stay in San Francisco, but if the Giants traded me I would go.”
Flood sued Major League Baseball and the case went all the way to the United State Supreme Court. The Court ruled against Flood in 1972, saying that Major League Baseball was exempt from antitrust laws. But the case paved the way for free agency.
Flood only played 13 more games in his career and retired at age 33. Willie Mays was traded to the New York Mets in 1972. He retired in 1973.
Jack Hanley, The Daily Review, Hayward, California, January 18, 1970
OCTOBER 7, 1969 – ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Curt Flood was a pretty good baseball player. He broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 18. He had a .293 lifetime batting average and won several Gold Glove awards. Flood did a lot for the Cardinals. He is most remembered for what he would not do.
Flood was traded from St. Louis to the Philadelphia Phillies on this date in 1969. He wouldn’t go. Flood didn’t like that he had no control over where he played. If a team traded a player to another team, that’s where the player went. That was the essence of the “reserve clause.” Flood balked, “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.”
Flood’s case against the reserve clause went all the way to the U-S Supreme Court. While the court ruled against Flood in 1972, the decision altered the landscape which soon allowed much freedom of movement by the players – and much higher salaries.
Kurt Flood https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/floodcu01.shtml
“Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball” by Leonard Koppett