Feb 04, 1976: Era of free agency
Submitted by BTGrimes on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 9:00am
Reserve clause ceases to exist
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - Do you think Alex Rodriguez knows who Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith are? He and every other ballplayer of today should tip their hats to the two pitchers who haven't played in thirty years. 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 whichever team they chose. They were free-agents.
With rare exceptions, major league baseball players hadn't been free agents since the late 1800s. When owners started raking in profits they realized that if players could sell their talents to the highest bidder salaries would skyrocket. Well over a hundred years ago the owners began putting a "reserve clause" in contracts. Even after a contract ended a player's fate remained with that team. The only recourse a dissatisfied player had was not to play. The only way he played for a different team is if he got traded.
In the mid 1970's 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 the February 4, 1976 ruling. We've had free-agency ever since, and salaries have... skyrocketed.
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