It is important to review history to determine how we arrived where we are today.
On January 16, 1970, baseball player Curt Flood filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York naming then commissioner Bowie Kuhn, American League president Joe Cronin, National League president Warren Giles and the 24 major league clubs for violating antitrust laws and the 13th amendment of the constitution-which barred slavery and involuntary servitude.
At that time in history, baseball players were subject to baseball’s “Reserve Clause” which bound a player to a specific team until the team released or traded the contractual rights of the player (or until he quit). It was called Section 10-A. No player was free to place his services on the open market. Note that if a player was traded, it was the player’s contract that changed teams. It was never the player that was traded. Just his contract. That was the lingo of the day. “We have traded the contract of Player X to the …”
Marvin Miller, an economist with the United Steel Workers of America was the first Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. He was elected to that role in 1966.
Through the years, Miller had new and innovative ideas to share with players. He had seen players bound to one club through the Reserve Clause with no real control of their own destiny. He was a huge advocate for innovation, creativity and change. And he took risks. Several years were spent introducing players to his philosophies and earning their trust. Then change began to happen.
1970 seemed to be the beginning of that change.
Representing the players, the owners sent a “final offer” to Miller on May 1, 1970, for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement due at the time. Miller sent the owner’s offer to the players without his own recommendation. The players voted 503-89 to reject the owner’s offer. That was after there had been 35 negotiating sessions between the owners group and the players negotiators.
Finally, on May 23, 1970, the players and Marvin Miller agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It would be a three-year deal to run from 1970-1972. It included the following:
-The minimum wage for players would increase to $12,000, $12,500 and then #13,000 over the three years.
-In addition, the players would receive an increase in the playoff financial pool.
-Players would get increased severance if they were cut in Spring Training or during the season.
-Spring training allowances increased.
-One of the most important changes included players receiving the ability to use an agent in their individual contract negotiations, and that the Major League Baseball Players Association would be the sole representative of the players regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
-Perhaps the kingpin of the deal was that an outside arbitrator would be used for all grievances not involving the integrity of the game. That would become very, very crucial in 1974 and 1975 as I will illustrate.
Curt Flood, a long time member of the St. Louis Cardinals and a seven time Gold Glove outfielder vehemently objected to the stated rules regarding baseball’s Reserve Clause. Again, that was the clause that bound a player to a team unless the player was traded.
After the Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies on October 7, 1969, Flood wrote a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn protesting the reserve clause.
Kuhn denied Flood’s written request to become a free agent. Flood sued to gain his freedom. On August 12, 1970, Judge Irving Ben Cooper ruled in favor of Curt Flood in the case that became know as Flood vs. Kuhn. The ruling indicated antitrust laws would no longer apply to baseball.
Flood never played for the Phillies. He was traded by the Phillies to the Washington Senators on November 3, 1970.
It is interesting to note the different witnesses that testified in the Flood vs. Kuhn case.
Appearing on behalf of Curt Flood were former players Jackie Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Jim Brosnan, former owner Bill Veeck and Flood. It was a sparkling cast of characters.
Appearing on behalf of Kuhn and baseball were Joe Cronin, Chub Feeney, Joh McHale of the Expos, Francis Dale of the Reds, Bob Reynolds of the Angels, Bing Devine of the Cardinals, Ewing Kauffman of the Royals, broadcaster Joe Garagiola, and of course, Kuhn.
Major League Baseball sent a ton of their firepower up against Flood. But they lost.
In March of 1971 Miller visited training camps and reviewed section 10-A of the standard baseball contract with every player. That section was the “Reserve Clause”. Miller believed the players could play on a one year renewed contract and then declare themselves to be free to sign elsewhere. He said, “I’m confident I’m right and it’s something to keep in mind”. He said the court case had opened up an entire new world for baseball players, but it must be tested.
He knew however, the Flood case would be appealed, but he wanted to test the decision.
In April 1971 the United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit upheld Judge Cooper’s ruling.
On April 27, 1971, Curt Flood left the Washington Senators and said he could no longer play for them.
On October 11, 1971, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Flood vs. Kuhn.
A great number of player vs. owner disputes continued to take place in 1972. They are actually too numerous to detail in this piece. But tensions continued to mount until on March 30, 1972, the players authorized to strike by a vote of 663-10 with 2 abstentions. The first ever player strike began on April 1,1972.
On June 19, 1972, the United States Supreme Court upheld the lower courts rulings in Flood vs. Kuhn. Baseball players were exempt from antitrust laws as confirmed by the highest court in the land.
Perhaps the most important Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and owners was agreed upon on February 25, 1973. Here are some of the gains of the players in the pact that would cover the years from 1973-1975:
There would be neutral binding salary arbitration for players with at least two years of service time.
Players who have been in the league 10 years and five with their current team can veto any trade.
Five year players cannot be sent to the minor leagues without consent.
The minimum salary would be $15,000 for 1973-1974 and then $16,000 in 1975.
On December 5, 1973, Ron Santo of the Cubs vetoed a trade to the Angels. He was the first player to ever exercise that new right.
Frankly, arbitration has changed the landscape of baseball forever and is probably the one contractual gain players will not ever surrender.
A NEW ERA BEGAN WITH CATFISH HUNTER, ANDY MESSERSMITH, AND DAVE MCNALLY
Oakland Athletics pitcher Catfish Hunter challenged team owner Charlie Finley after Finley failed to comply with language written in the pitcher’s 1974 contract. Hunter was declared a free agent and went on to sign a $3.75MM five-year contract with the Yankees. In 1974 Finley had paid Hunter $100,000, considered a good deal of money in a contract at that time. Players were exercising their rights. His $3.75MM deal shocked everyone. The Reserve Clause was in big trouble.
In 1975 Expos pitcher Dave McNally and Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith had their contracts automatically renewed by their separate clubs. They were both in their option years when their contracts were renewed. The Reserve Clause was once again in question.
Both players insisted that since neither had a signed contract they were free to sign elsewhere. Their teams felt the Reserve Clause allowed a team to renew a one-year contract issued the year before.
The Players Association filed grievances on behalf of both players. Hearings were held before arbitrator Peter Seitz, the third and only impartial person on a three-person arbitration panel that included MLB Player Relations Committee Chair John Gaherin, Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller and arbitrator Peter Seitz. Of course Gaherin and Miller would vote with their constituencies. Seitz would be the deciding vote.
Seitz ruled in favor of Messersmith and McNally in December 1975. The players were free to sign with any club of their choosing. Appeals of the Seitz decision were defeated in court. Seitz was upheld.
Baseball was changing. Players and Marvin Miller were gaining ground on the owners quickly. Then in 1976, the game really changed even more. A path to free agency became a contractual reality.
In July 1976 owners and Marvin Miller agreed to a new four-year Collective Bargaining Agreement for the years 1976-1979 that yielded the following gains for players:
Players can become free agents after six years of service time and then negotiate with up to 12 clubs chosen through a re-entry draft.
Players can demand a trade after five years.
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
The years between the 1970s have seen tremendous growth and change in the Basic Agreements.
Marvin Miller’s groundbreaking work with the Players Association has taken the players and owners where they are today. Of course, all has not been peace and love since Miller’s departure as the head of the Player’s Association. There has been acrimony and strikes. But there has been harmony as well.
All seemed calm and positive when players and owners signed their current five-year Basic Agreement in December 2017. Some of the important features include:
-Four additional off days in the schedule for players (that began this past season).
-A full year of service time for players will accrue after 173 service days as opposed to 187 .
-Home field advantage in the World Series will belong to the team with the best win percentage.
-The 15-day disabled list will be replaced with a 10-day disabled list.
-Players on the winning All Star Team will share a $640,000 bonus.
-All-Star Team rosters will include 20 position players and 12 pitchers.
-Prize money for Home Run Derby will increase over the term of the agreement.
-Clubs will assume more responsibility for providing food and amenities for players in the home and visiting clubhouses.
-All clubs will establish a Player/Management Advisory Council that will work with a full-time chef and registered dietician to improve clubhouse nutrition.
-All clubs must provide access, on a voluntary basis, to a sports psychologist.
-The Major League minimum salary will increase from $507,500 in 2016 to $535,000 in 2017 to $545,000 in 2018, to $555.000 in 2019 and be subject to cost of living adjustments in 2020 and 2021.
-The Minor League minimum salary will increase from $82,700 in 2016 to $86,500 in 2017 to $88.000 in 2018 to $89,500 in 2019 and be subject to cost of living increases in 2020 and 2021.
-The number of in-season random urine tests will increase from 3,200 to 4,800.
-The number of off-season urine tests will increase from 350 to 1,550 in order to insure that all 40-man roster players will be subject to at least one off-season urine test.
-The number of in-season random blood tests will increase from 260 to 500 and the number of off-season random blood tests will increase from 140 to 400.
-Penalties and prohibitions for Stimulant violations will be increased to 50 games for a second-time violation; 100 games for a third time violation and up to a permanent suspension for a fourth-time violation.
-Any player who makes his Major League debut in 2017 or after will be prohibited from using smokeless tobacco on the field in every ballpark.
-The time period in which a club may designate a player for assignment has been shortened from 10 days to 7 days.
-Various improvements to the allowances that players receive, including moving allowances have been initiated.
Even with all those wonderful contractual gains, bells and whistles, not all players are benefiting from the health of baseball. As I write this, countless non-signed free agents remain waiting for a home. There are countless other players who have had to retire earlier than they hoped as no deal found them in last year’s free agent class. The free agent situation is seen as a serious problem for marginal players. And yes, every team has to have marginal players. They can’t all be stars. When I was a kid collecting baseball cards, those players were the “scrubs” in my card collection. Now many of those players are fighting for a job. Their livelihood is at stake.
TROUBLE IS BREWING
I have tried to illustrate some of the drastic changes in the Basic Agreements from the 1970s until today. Of course, the most dramatic is the player’s salary structure and of course, the introduction of arbitration.
But even with the nice perks currently included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (like having an executive chef in the clubhouse) I believe we are headed to a lack of harmony between players and ownership. Why? Take a look at the financial backdrop in today’s game.
The disparity between teams in large market areas with extensive revenue flow and those in medium or smaller market areas with lesser financial resources results in greater disparity in dollars devoted to player contracts.
Teams like Tampa Bay, Miami, Arizona, Minnesota, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and others of those population sizes don’t compete in the same salary universe as teams in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Philadelphia. Then there are clubs like Colorado and St. Louis that draw very well, but aren’t in the same environments as the bigger markets.
I have long felt that every team and every team owner has the money for a competitive payroll. Revenue sources are not restricted to tickets sales. Rights fees for television, radio, all other forms of media, concession money, apparel sales, and parking fees all contribute to the bottom line of a club.
Like a car dealer that has new car sales, used car sales, parts sales, service department fees, leasing fees, and financing fees, a team owner has several different buckets into which money is placed. If new car sales are low, used car sales are probably up. If the team isn’t drawing fans, maybe they are selling tons of the newest cool looking jersey and cap.
Owners recently received an equity payment that is said to have exceeded $50MM per owner for the sale of BAMTech, the streaming technology provider spun off from MLB Advanced Media and sold to Disney for $2.6BB. The figure may have exceeded $50MM. Regardless, that’s a lot of equity money that can go anywhere the owner wishes, including into investment accounts or in the owner’s piggy bank.
The question is not if an owner can afford to pay the players? It is how the owner’s choose to spend their money that matters. And every owner is different. It is a very exclusive club. And one that costs a fortune to enter. But the rewards of that ownership are mighty.
Now we are seeing a new, younger, highly educated group of baseball executives processing numbers through advanced algorithms to determine a player’s true value. The new generation of executives feels their evaluations are closer to the truth than perceived values used in the past. One’s perception of a player may differ significantly from a player’s value as determined by complicated math that considers a myriad of more complicated variables.
The net result of more mathematical scrutiny has resulted in longer free agency wait periods and salaries far below the expectations of veterans who perceive their value to be higher than the offers they are receiving on the free agent, open market.
Only a few years ago, a player that had six years of major league playing experience was almost “entitled” to a huge day at the pay window. It was a reward for perseverance in a tough environment. It would appear those entitlement days are gone.
The logjam of players perceived by themselves and their agents to be worthy of lengthy, expensive free agent contracts grows by the day. Reality has set in and countless players remain searching for a team. And we are lever closer to the beginning of Spring Training.
The net result of player scrutiny at today’s level is striking. We may be seeing clubs with a couple players at the high end of the salary structure and lots of players that are younger and less expensive throughout the 40-man roster. Like the leagues themselves, baseball rosters may be composed of the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”.
With so many middle range players out of work in mid-January, is there something the Players Association can do in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to change the trend?
That is the multi-million dollar, billion dollar question? Is the system of free agency broken for average, grade 50 players? Can anything be done by the Players Association to change the calculus?
Players contribute $85 per day during the season as Association dues. In my opinion, the MLBPA is the most powerful association in the country. If they band together they can stop the game of baseball, as they have done with strikes five times in the past. The game came to a halt in 1972, 1980, 1981, 1985 and 1994-95. The owners have locked out players from camps or venues three times. Players were locked out in 1973, 1976, and 1990.
Eight players are included on The 2019 Players Association Executive Board. They include Andrew Miller, James Paxton, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Matt Harvey, Chris Iannetta, Cory Gearrin, and Collin McHugh. The perspectives of Miller, Murphy and Harvey are crucial, as they have just gone through the free agency process and will probably have plenty to say about their experiences.
Since the current Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t expire until December 1, 2021, can both sides retain peace until that time?
There are 400 player agents certified to work with Major League baseball players. Each one of them likely has a tale of woe regarding the lack of activity or perceived value of a client or two to share with anyone willing to listen.
In order to get change in any process like free agency or a procedure like arbitration from the owners, it is likely the players will have to give something in return. That’s the rub. What are the players willing to yield from agreed upon contracts to improve the fate of aging Association members eligible for free agency but finding slim pickings?
One thing is very, very clear. It is unlikely the Major League Baseball Players Association will ever give up the concept of arbitration. It may well be the single greatest collectively bargained factor that changed the baseball landscape.
For now, however, free agency isn’t working for lots and lots of average baseball players. It is likely we will see numerous players looking for a chair when the free agency music has stopped and the season gets underway.
Every week I will post a different position ranking for fantasy baseball. Today, I rank second basemen.
SECOND BASE FANTASY BASEBALL RANKINGS
YOAN MONCADA-WHITE SOX
DEVON TRAVIS-BLUE JAYS
BROCK HOLT-RED SOX
DUSTIN PEDROIA-RED SOX
BRANDON DRURY-BLUE JAYS
UNDER THE RADAR=JOEY WENDLE, DAVID FLETCHER, JURICKSON PROFAR
Players listed under the radar may break out and exceed their ranking.
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