Goldman: Curt Flood’s letter at 50: a half-century of rebellion and MLB resistance

From SABR member Steven Goldman at Baseball Prospectus on December 24, 2019:

In late December 1975, as a result of pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally having played a season without signing a contract and contending they should therefore be free agents, arbitrator Peter Seitz was required to rule on the meaning of baseball’s reserve clause, which had heretofore been interpreted by the owners and accepted by the players as binding them to their teams in perpetuity. The then-masters of baseball cast themselves as Cassandras predicting the end of baseball should Seitz’ find against them. Joe L. Brown, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1956 through 1976, posed questions that now seem quaint in an era in which Cleveland and Boston are poised to deal Francisco Lindor and Mookie Betts (respectively): 

“If [free agency] had been in effect, the Pittsburgh club could have lost Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski by the time they were both 26 years old. Don’t just think what happens to the team, think about the fans. What happens to fan loyalties? … Would a club owner be willing to give a player a suitable reward for putting his name on a contract if he knows that when the player gets good he’ll leave him?”

The obvious answers might have occurred to him: (1) A system which allows you to lose Roberto Clemente would also allow you to replace him with Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson were you willing to pay them. Alternatively, if a Clemente or Mazeroski wants to leave, we ought to respect their right to live and work where they might find the most happiness. (2) Fan loyalties? Brown himself had dealt Dick Groat, Matty Alou, and Roy Face. (3) Employee turnover is a part of every business. (4) The departing stars might be offered sufficient incentives to stay. 

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Originally published: December 30, 2019. Last Updated: December 30, 2019.