The Messersmith Decision: A Look Back.
On December 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz found for Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally in their grievance over interpretation of the reserve clause contained in the standard player contract. Here are quotes from some of the key players, as reported in The Sporting News during 1976-77.
Peter Seitz: "I had no deadline. I didn't have to issue a decision in five days or five weeks. I told the owners, 'Take the case out of my hands. Negotiate with the players and settle your differences.' But the owners rebuffed me completely and said 'No, we want a decision now."
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: "It is just inconceivable that after nearly 100 years of developing this system for the overall good of the game, it should be obliterated in this way."
AL president Lee MacPhail: "The players have not suffered financially under the present reserve system. The prospect of a sharp rise in player salaries on top of what they've already achieved could make investment in a baseball franchise very unattractive."
MLBPA general counsel Dick Moss: "Talk of bankruptcies and grave economic problems does not square with what management has been saying in bargaining sessions. At no time have management representatives claimed inability to pay for proposals suggested by the players. On the contrary, management's negotiators have made it clear they are not pleading in this vein. As a matter of fact, under the law, management must show its books if it claims inability to pay. If management has problems in this area, we'd be happy to accommodate them - after examining their books."
Andy Messersmith explained that he still wanted to play for the Dodgers - in fact he filed the grievance only after "[w]e couldn't get together on salary and a no-trade clause in my contract." (Messersmith ultimately signed with the Braves for about $1 million over three years.)
Dave McNally, who retired after the 1975 season and never returned to the majors, said he pressed the grievance mostly out of concern for younger players: "I think many younger players are held back without getting a full opportunity. I don't think older players suffer particularly under the reserve system."
Owners' negotiator John Gaherin to Marvin Miller, reacting at the bargaining table to news that the owners had lost their court challenge to the result of the arbitration: "We must be realistic. We will proceed as though this decision does not exist."
After the season, Bowie Kuhn insisted that the higher salaries resulting from free agency would inevitably lead to higher ticket prices. Marvin Miller disagrees - and so does one owner: "That the burden is passed along to the fans is a myth. The owners absorb it. If we passed along our increased cost of doing business because of the free agent draft, it would be unbelievable. We would have had to raise our prices 10 times over what we have." (Who uttered this heresy, Bill Veeck? No; the speaker was none other than Bud Selig, quoted in the January 8, 1977 TSN.)
Copyright © 2000 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the Fall 2000 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.