Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Another View on Curt Flood

Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2005
From: Bill Deane DizDeane@USADATANET.NET
Subject: Curt Flood, Pioneer

Marc Seror wrote, "A few days ago was the eighth anniversary of the death of Curt Flood, a great ballplayer and a great man. Today's youth should look at this man's life and see how bold and valiant he was, who believed so strongly in a cause that he sacrificed what he loved, so others may not suffer as he did."

Flood was indeed a courageous, principled man, who basically lost his livelihood because of his challenge of baseball's reserve clause. But he lost his challenge, so how did his actions save others from suffering as he did?

Three decades have blurred history. Many people know that the Flood case happened in the early 1970s, and that the advent of free agency happened in the mid-1970s, and they assume that there was some connection. If there was, I fail to see it.

It was another Cardinal, Ted Simmons, who unwittingly paved the way for free agency in the same year that Flood lost his case. Simmons, who had received just $17,500 while batting .304 in 1971, wanted more than the $25,000 the club offered him in '72, and refused to sign. But instead of holding out, Simmons just kept coming to work every day. This forced the Cards to invoke the little-known "renewal clause," permitting a club to unilaterally renew a player's contract from the previous season (at up to a 20% cut) if a new one had not been signed by March 10. Simmons played most of the year under this arrangement, finally signing a two-year pact worth a reported $75,000 on July 24. Had he held out a couple of months longer and tested the system, he might have become baseball's first free agent, three years before Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. "I'm no crusader," Simmons admitted. "I don't even have a lawyer. All I want is more money."

The baseball world wondered what would have happened had Simmons completed the entire season without a contract, and it would soon find out. The Padres' Bobby Tolan broke Simmons's record in 1974, playing the whole season before signing in December. Finally, pitchers McNally (Expos) andMessersmith (Dodgers) went the distance in 1975. Messersmith received $115,000 but played without a written contract. The Players' Association filed a grievance, claiming that the two pitchers were entitled to "free agent" status. In a landmark decision on December 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz agreed. Seitz said that the renewal clause created only a one-year right of renewal, after which the club had no further claim to the player. McNally had already retired, but the arbitrator's decision allowed Messersmith to sell his services to the highest bidder. He soon signed a three-year, $1,000,000 contract with the Braves, and the free agency era was upon us.

Bill Deane
(Source: SABR-L Digest)

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