Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Free Agency

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December 4, 00

Free Agency Before and After

The Rodriguez Factor

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December 11, 000 is a day that will live in infamy. No, it’s not Pearl Harbor; it is the day the Texas Rangers signed shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a monumental $5 million, 10-year free agent deal (Miller).

Many people inside and outside of baseball were outraged at the gross amount of money the Rangers threw at Rodriguez. A-Rod, as he is affectionately known, now makes more in a year than most small countries. Although he is not the only player to sign a huge free agent contract, his is the one to receive the most attention. This issue was the root of more e-mail to more sports columns than any other event in sports history (Barra).Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck said, “It isn’t the high price of stars that’s expensive, it’s the high price of mediocrity” (Baseball). Before we discuss free agency in its present form we must look at the root of this fiasco.

The Early Years

In baseball pre-175 there was a term used around the league called the “reserve clause”. On September , 187, baseball owners convened and wanted to limit competition by letting teams reserve five players. They also were in agreement that no team would attempt to acquire a player reserved by another team (Hickok). This procedure was kept secret at first, but it soon leaked to the general public.

Players did not protest this idea at first. Actually, since a team only reserved their five best players it was worn as a “badge of honor” (Hickok).

This clause was first placed into a regular player’s contract in 1887. Although it may sound fairly innocent, it actually binds a participant to one team for his entire career- except if the team decides to release, trade or sell him to another squad (Hickok). The stipulation remained in the contracts of players until 175.

The Originators

Curt Flood was a centerfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals for twelve years, and was then traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 16. He refused to report, and supported by the Major League Players’ Association, he filed an anti-trust suit against Organized Baseball (Hickok). Flood lost the suit, which went up to the Supreme Court, but the suit made way for the well-known arbitration case brought about by pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. They both participated in the 175 season without contracts and then declared they were entitled to free agency, since the reserve clause could no longer apply.

Arbitrator Peter Seitz, the Major League Baseball panel chairman was asked to rule on this issue. In a decision announced on December , 175, Seitz ruled that McNally and Messersmith were free agents because the reserve clause could not tie them to one team forever (Hickok).

When a fresh Basic Agreement was signed in July of 176, it unchained players from the reserve clause after six years of major league service and established a re-entry draft at the end of each season for players who could no longer be reserved by their clubs (Hickok).“ This was the greatest revolutionary act in America since the Boston Tea Party”’ says ESPN baseball analyst Jayson Stark.

Many baseball historians believe that Oakland Athletics pitcher; Jim “Catfish” Hunter was baseball’s first free agent. An arbitrator ruled, in late 174, that by violating part of Hunter’s contract, A’s owner Charles O. Finley had invalidated the complete contract, including the reserve clause (Pink).

They claim this made “Catfish” baseball’s first free agent. At the time, Hunter’s .75 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees was the largest in baseball history. When asked how baseball was different before free agency he replied, “You didn’t have any options. You couldn’t go to another team. You had to sign with the team that owned you or not sign at all”(Pink).

The Price is Right

Many teams with a lot of money spend it like a child in a candy store. That means they are the best teams in the league, right? Not so. Since 187, teams with baseball’s highest paid player have not only never won a World Series, not one has made the playoffs and only one team has finished with a winning record (Lahman). That team was the 000 Los Angeles Dodgers, which had 15 million dollar a year pitcher Kevin Brown.

Twenty-four players (on 17 separate teams) received wages of ten million dollars or more in 001. Only five of those 17 teams made the postseason. Eight of the ten highest paid players saw the playoffs from off the field (Lehman).

This Year

If teams took these statistics to heart, would they still spend outrageous amounts of money on the top players? I believe so. As of right now there are one hundred and fifty-five (155) players eligible for free agency (CNN).In the American League (AL) there are 5 players and the National League (NL) has 6. In the AL the Boston Red Sox lead the way with ten (10) and the Atlanta Braves Have eleven (11) in the NL.

The biggest free agent signing so far this off-season is Jim Thome, who left the Cleveland Indians for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was compensated for the inconveniences of having to move, to the tune of a six-year 86 million dollar contract (CNN). The Phillies also have a tentative offer to Atlanta Braves pitcher for a three year 0 million dollars. Will the Phillies be in the World Series because of these acquisitions? Not if history has anything to say about it.

My Thoughts

Free agency was the best thing to come along in baseball. To the average person 10, 0 ,0 million dollars a year is exorbitant amount and that players do not deserve it. But when was the last time twenty thousand people came to watch them in their offices. If you do not believe in the salaries, do not attend. Until the general public stops moving turnstiles, there will be million dollar contracts. It’s the American way.

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