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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Curt Flood: 50th anniversary of the letter that started the free agency fight

“After 12 years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes,” Flood wrote in his Dec. 24 missive. “I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several states.

“It is my desire to play baseball in 1970 and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all the major league clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”

Walt Davis Posted: December 24, 2019 at 08:18 AM | 128 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bowie kuhn, curt flood, free agency

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   101. McCoy Posted: December 28, 2019 at 05:37 PM (#5911452)
Flip
   102. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 28, 2019 at 09:54 PM (#5911502)
This interpretation would render the ‘for a period of one year’ in the renewal provision surplusage, as it was a one-year contract to begin with. To have any purpose, that clause would have to be interpreted as a limitation on the total period of the renewal.
I see what you're saying, but the problem is that interpreting it the other way makes the "renew" language inaccurate. It should be written as "extend" it for a year, not "renew" it for a year.
   103. Sunday silence Posted: December 29, 2019 at 08:57 AM (#5911548)
I disagree David, I thought that was a very good argument and one that is often used in these sort of interpretation cases. Early on, baseball had the clause as two years then they changed it to one. THat has to mean something. In fact I thought that was brought up somewhere before, perhaps in Bill James or one of the legal decisions; did Seitz not mention it?

You seem to think the word renew, makes it equally ambiguous. I havent totally thought it out, but the concept of renewing something for one year only does not seem such a stretch. Of course "extend" might be a better word, but do you think "renew" actually makes it completely ambiguous?
   104. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: December 29, 2019 at 04:32 PM (#5911598)
Yeah, for me the surplusage issue easily overrides any parsing one could do between ‘renew’ and ‘extend,’ which is removed from the actual context.
   105. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: December 29, 2019 at 04:33 PM (#5911600)
Early on, baseball had the clause as two years then they changed it to one. THat has to mean something.
Really? Interesting. Where did you learn that? I agree that it strongly supports the ‘one year only’ interpretation.
   106. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 29, 2019 at 09:04 PM (#5911641)
BillyFace: Fair enough. In the end, my point was not that one construction carries the day, but that there was ambiguity.


But I do think it's somewhat significant that for 90-odd years nobody ever acted as if playing out an option would end someone's reserve status and make him a free agent.
   107. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 12:01 AM (#5911660)
David you keep alluding to this idea that there was some action by the players that indicates that most players acted as if this was a perpetual contract. But when? and by whom? This is the same issue with the online article I just discussed he keeps acting as if it was understood to be perpetual but in what way?

If I understood what I read, Messersmith was the first one to be playing out an option. BUt maybe there were others.

Im also not convinced that if one lone baseball player were to act that it was perpetual it would be binding upon an entire entity, known as the MLBPA. Or whatever they called their bargaining unit. Right? THat wouldnt make sense either would it? YOu have a 600+ member union that's been operating under some ambiguous language, and then you have one guy 30 years ago who assumed it meant one thing... That wouldnt really bind the entire union would it?

So what actions or practices are you referring to?
   108. bobm Posted: December 30, 2019 at 12:24 AM (#5911663)
But I do think it's somewhat significant that for 90-odd years nobody ever acted as if playing out an option would end someone's reserve status and make him a free agent.

I understand what you mean in a commercial context. That said, a cynic who sees this as a civil rights issue would point out that the 63 years between Homer Plessy riding a train in 1892 and Rosa Parks riding a bus in 1955 would not justify segregation.
   109. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 01:39 AM (#5911670)
according to http://milkeespress.com/reserveclause.html Ted Simmons became the first one to play out his option:

It wasn’t until 1972 that anyone played into the regular season on a renewed contract. Catcher Ted Simmons had had a solid season in his first full year in the majors, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971. He rejected his club’s contract offer the following spring. Rather than follow the usual, but internecine, path of holding out, Simmons wanted to get in shape and play while continuing to negotiate with the Cardinals. He reported to spring training, forcing the Cardinals to renew his contract.

“Simmons refused to be bluffed into signing a new unsatisfactory contract in order to be ’allowed’ into uniform,” said Marvin Miller. “The union advised [him] that once his contract was renewed, he was under contract and could not be barred from spring training or from the regular season, even if he refused to sign that contract.”19


it continues:

The owners’ fear of a test case may have benefited players who followed Simmons’s lead and went into the 1973 season on renewed contracts. According to the 1974 The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide, seven players opened the 1973 season without having signed new contracts and were playing on renewed contracts: Stan Bahnsen, Rick Reichardt, and Mike Andrews of the Chicago White Sox; Jim Kaat of Minnesota; Dick Billings of Texas; Fritz Peterson of the New York Yankees; and Jerry Kenney of Cleveland.25 (Kaat had actually signed a contract with the Twins the day before the regular season began.)26

   110. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 02:12 AM (#5911674)

FRom the same article, this classic quote from Dick Young:

Nevertheless, Dick Young of the New York Daily News, in his column entitled “Young Ideas” (considered a misnomer by many), blasted Seitz with typical intemperance. Young’s opening read, “Peter Seitz reminds me of a terrorist, a little man to whom nothing very important has happened in his lifetime, who suddenly decides to create some excitement by tossing a bomb into things.”45


Dick Young is remembered today for being this insane conservative guy, but the thing is he wasnt like that in every single one of his columns. Like one day you could be reading something really insightful about Secretariat and how horses think. Or the Ron Swoboda's last days as a player, and then the next day you'd read this conservative screed and you'd think who the hell is this guy? He's like to the right of Agnew or Curtis LeMay or someone...

He was weird. BUt I think that was part of his shtick you never knew what you'd get when you picked up a Dick Young column.
   111. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 02:46 AM (#5911676)
BIlly RIpken asked about the two year clause, it came up in 1902 in the Lajoie case:

https://www.theantitrustattorney.com/baseball-and-the-antitrust-laws-part-ii-the-owners-strike-back-and-strike-out/

As background, the owners had lost the first round of challenges to the reserve clause. In 1890 Monte Ward had started the Players Brotherhood or whatever and they were going to form another league. The owners sued them seeking an injunction to prevent them from playing on the basis of the contracts they had signed. In the space of a few months, 3 court rulings in a row ruled against them: In New York, in Pennsylvania and in Federal Court.

The basis of those rulings was that a) the terms of the new contract were ambiguous, the contracts said it could be renewed by the salary could be no less than 70% of the previous salary. There was no definite number in there so the courts said that's not enough for a contract, all this is a promise to try to negotiate a new contract. Also b) the contract is not mutually enforceable. THe owners can release the player with 10 days notice but the player is bound for 2 years or whatever. Mutuality is a very key part of contracts, but the reasoning here is kind of dodgey. All three cases though are pretty much in lockstep agreement.

In response to that, at least some of the contracts changed the renewal period. The Phillies who owned Lajoie's contract were hoping that this would prove to a court that they were not binding the player indefinitely it was merely two years. And so the rights were of mutual time period. The PA supreme Court agreed with the Phillies. It said that the 10 day argument was bogus, because that was simply one right the owners had that the player didnt; the player still had a mutual remedy so it was OK.

After this case, the owners would put in specific salary amounts for the renewal year(s) so the contract wasnt indefinite. And they also assigned some of the money as being paid specificallly for the renewal right, like part of this salary was in return for the right to renew.

So then I guess at this point most of the contracts went back to being one year renewals. But clearly teams were aware of the arguments that could be made.
   112. . Posted: December 30, 2019 at 06:55 AM (#5911679)
according to http://milkeespress.com/reserveclause.html Ted Simmons became the first one to play out his option:


People were speculating that Al Downing not signing his contract in 1969 could make him a free agent. Law review article:

Link

Major league rule 3(c) requiring a player to "sign" his contract to be eligible (*) appears to have been the sword the owners used, and it's easy to see how it could be a sword. Going into a season with only a renewed contract risked having an owner say, like halfway through the year, "I'm not paying you, you aren't eligible," and then having to fight/sue to get your pay. No player would really want to risk that. Though it sounds like some had:

Downing ended a brief holdout on March 17, 1969 and reported to the
Yankees' Fort Lauderdale spring training complex." In arriving four weeks
late, Downing stated that he "might play all season without signing a
contract." 9 George Vecsey, a writer for the New York Times, pointed out that
such "a practice has not been admitted to in the major leagues."o At issue was
Major League Rule 3(c)(1) which read: "No player shall participate in any
championship game until he has signed a Uniform Contract for service during
the current season."" MacPhail acknowledged that the team had invoked the
reserve clause by the required March 10 deadline although he curiously
acknowledged to Vecsey "that other players in the past had actually played a
season without signing contracts" although he refused to "be too specific."62




   113. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 10:37 AM (#5911708)
another article said DOwning had had an injury so he felt his bargaining position was weak and that he would be released so he eventually signed. Im not sure that is the same 1969 season though. Might be later.

   114. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: December 30, 2019 at 11:58 AM (#5911725)
BillyFace: Fair enough. In the end, my point was not that one construction carries the day, but that there was ambiguity.
Understood. I personally don't think the potential parsing of "renew" vs. "extend," in light of the surplus clause, is enough to create ambiguity, but YMMV.

But I do think it's somewhat significant that for 90-odd years nobody ever acted as if playing out an option would end someone's reserve status and make him a free agent.
I think this is pretty readily explained by the powerful incentives on both sides (individual players and owners) to avoid litigating the issue, as discussed upthread.
   115. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 02:30 PM (#5911773)
First off, we dont really know if anyone did that. Although in one of the early discussions with Miller, I think MacPhail or someone said that its happened in the past. But no one ever produced any records. People keep acting like this actually happened but theres no evidence.

In the early days, like around 1900 sometimes the clause read "..for a renewal period of one year..." something like that. Which seems to indicate you can renew it under this contract, just one time. Like theres a renewal period but it only lasts one year. Someone had definitely thought about that idea way back. I guess the wording changed over time.
   116. McCoy Posted: December 30, 2019 at 03:25 PM (#5911781)
The reserve clause is part of the age old law of those in power get to say it means whatever they want. Baseball had local, state, and federal governments on their side or in their pocket. They had the media in their pocket which means they had the public in their pocket.
   117. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: December 30, 2019 at 04:10 PM (#5911789)
I guess I just don't understand the logic or basis behind your thesis that everyone was in MLB's pocket and would have ruled against the players, except for an arbitrator. Seems...arbitrary.
   118. . Posted: December 30, 2019 at 04:23 PM (#5911791)
The reserve clause is part of the age old law of those in power get to say it means whatever they want. Baseball had local, state, and federal governments on their side or in their pocket. They had the media in their pocket which means they had the public in their pocket.


You're doing that baseball fan thingie whereby baseball management is an evil, greedy cabal pitilessly crushing the forces of progress, cheered on by the corrupt masses, that only a brave superhero can overcome.

Monte Ward won his court case against the reserve clause in 1890. Those in power did not get to say the reserve clause meant whatever they wanted it to mean.
   119. McCoy Posted: December 30, 2019 at 04:59 PM (#5911800)
And yet they did. How did Ward's league go?
   120. . Posted: December 30, 2019 at 05:05 PM (#5911801)
About the same way the WFL or USFL went. Doesn't say a thing about the reserve clause.
   121. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: December 30, 2019 at 05:26 PM (#5911806)
This is a topic I don't know much about. So I was curious about the Toolson decision I had never heard of before. Now, part of Toolson's problem was that he was suspended by the commissioner for ostensibly violating the reserve clause. So even if the court agreed with the (much later) Seitz interpretation of that clause* the court could still find in favor of MLB because the commissioner's actions would be immune to a Sherman Act challenge. But the opinion does provide the following. It's in footnote 10 of the dissent and If I'm reading this correctly, it's one of the players describing the existing system:

http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep346/usrep346356/usrep346356.pdf

That the Defendants, and each of them, have entered into or agreed to be bound by a contract in the restraint of Interstate Commerce; that said contract is designated as the Major-Minor League Agreement, dated December 6, 1946, and provides in effect that: "
"1. All players' contracts in the Major Leagues shall be of one form, and that all players' contracts in the Minor Leagues shall be of one form."
"2. That all players' contracts in any league must provide that the Club or any assignee thereof shall have the option to renew the player's contract each year, and that the player shall not play for any other club but the club with which he has a contract or the assignee thereof."
"3. That each club shall, on or before a certain date each year, designate a reserve list of active and eligible players which it desires to reserve for the ensuing year. That no player on such a reserve list may thereafter be eligible to play for any other club until his contract has been assigned or until he has been released...."


So they appear to accept that the uniform contract's reserve clause is perpetual. Which isn't dispositive but it certainly points to the idea that there was a customary understanding about the clause's effect.

*The suit was decided four years after Toolson left for the Mexican League so the one year limitation would have elapsed by the time the Supreme Court was looking at the case.
   122. . Posted: December 30, 2019 at 06:05 PM (#5911809)
That footnote 10 is good, but it's referring only to the teams (the teams are the defendants) thinking the reserve clause was perpetual, but that's completely different than the teams and the players all thinking that, which was the assertion. Earlier language in that very same footnote essentially concedes the fact that the so-called perpetual reserve clause wasn't spelled out in the documents, especially in the contract itself:

The reserve clause is popularly believed to be some provision
in the player contract which gives to the club in organized baseball
which first signs a player a continuing and exclusive right to his
services. Commissioner Frick testified that this popular understanding was essentially correct. He pointed out, however, that the reserve
clause is not merely a provision in the contract, but also incorporates
a reticulated system of rules and regulations which enable, indeed
require, the entire baseball organization to respect and enforce each
club's exclusive and continuous right to the services of its players."


The Commissioner testified that it the popular belief was only "essentially correct," meaning ... it wasn't really correct. Which is why he had to point out all the other stuff that supposedly imposed the system. In a pre-internet age, no one really had access to these documents and no incentive to really peruse them to see what they really said and so the "popular belief" took hold. But it was never really true. T
   123. Sunday silence Posted: December 30, 2019 at 09:11 PM (#5911838)
Frick saying the concept was essentially correct and then pointing out details that go on to enforce that right, is NOT saying it wasnt correct. Frick is saying yes the system is perpetual and these details serve to enforce it.

The term "essentially" means that the basic concept is correct. Youve really twisted this here.
   124. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: December 30, 2019 at 09:17 PM (#5911843)
Still, Frick was only speaking for the owners’ point of view.
   125. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 30, 2019 at 10:39 PM (#5911858)
Frick saying the concept was essentially correct and then pointing out details that go on to enforce that right, is NOT saying it wasnt correct. Frick is saying yes the system is perpetual and these details serve to enforce it.

The term "essentially" means that the basic concept is correct. Youve really twisted this here.
I mean, you know who you're talking to, right?

You are correct in your understanding. The point Frick was apparently making was that there were two aspects to the reserve clause: one is the contract between player and team, while the other is the contract between the teams. So even if a player could play out his option and then somehow secure a ruling that he was a free agent not bound to his team, if the other teams agreed not to sign him then he was de facto not free, at least within the confines of Organized Baseball. The only thing it would necessarily due is allow him to play for an independent team.

(In any other sport or industry, such an agreement would be a violation of antitrust law, but of course MLB was an exception there.)
   126. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 30, 2019 at 10:46 PM (#5911863)
Still, Frick was only speaking for the owners’ point of view.
Well, yes. And aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln…

But again, I don't see any evidence that the players felt differently. One of the sources above — I forget which and don't feel like hunting for it — goes on to describe Miller as doggedly going around to the players in spring training for some time trying to convince them that his interpretation of the provision (i.e., that playing out one's option makes one a free agent) was correct.
   127. Sunday silence Posted: December 31, 2019 at 07:17 AM (#5911904)
That story sounds about right. But even if the players had that sense; I mean Im sure they did. the system was rigged against them so of course they felt that way. THat's not the same thing as saying there was some sort of dealings or some sort of thing they DID (as opposed to thought) that indicated that both sides thought the reserve clause meant perpetual.

Back to the vegetable analogy. So I thought all along that tomatoes were included, so what? Its not what you thought, there would have to be some sort of dealing. Like I sold tomatoes under the agreement.
   128. McCoy Posted: December 31, 2019 at 10:26 AM (#5911928)
The players, believe it or not, were initially opposed to a union. They hated the idea of unions and the players of the time viewed unions as unamerican. That's why it isn't called a union but an association. In the beginning the owners were actually paying for the salaries of the association staff and the leader, Judge Cannon, was deep deep in the pocket of the owners. It was only when the Judge got to haggling over his salary and compensation that they turned to Marvin Miller who initially the players didn't want because he had a union background. I think he went to the Grapefruit League first to sell himself to the players and he lost the vote something like 173 to 10. Afterwards he regrouped and did a much better job in the Cactus League and swept the vote. Marvin would meet with team reps four times a year and would get in front of every single player at least once a year. Miller had grand plans for the union but he also knew he had to get the players to a place where they were willing to make a stand and would be prepared to fight for their rights. He started out small and slowly but steadily got the players prepped for the bigger fight.

When Miller came on board they weren't even fighting over the reserve clause. They were most worried about their pension, minimum wage, and meal money. Judge Cannon was so cozy that the players didn't even know the pension money was their money, the owners couldn't take their money away, and that the Owners weren't supposed to be commingling the funds for the players with their own funds. Despite what nostalgia may show you the 50's and 60's were not a good time financially for baseball. The Dodgers were making a profit and then a bigger profit when they moved to LA and the Yankees were raking it in but everyone else either suffered or went through spells of suffering. What saved the owners was they weren't paying their players much at all. Attendance throughout the 50's and 60's declined. The owners mishandled TV and couldn't be bothered to actually sell merchandise. The players didn't want to rock the boat and had no idea that they could get so much money if they were no longer restricted.

The Topps contract was the start of Miller showing them what they were truly worth. Before Miller the players gave away their rights to Topps for a song. Every year their contract man would come around the spring training camps to get the contract signed and he was like Santa Claus to the players. Wanted a new fridge? Here you go. How about a TV? Just sign here. It was Miller who came along and said the players agreement was worth way more than what it is currently costing you and got Topps to pay it.
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