Laurila: Kaat, Costas and players on Flood and free agency

From SABR member David Laurila at FanGraphs on August 3, 2014:

This year’s trade deadline was, to state the obvious, memorable. Meanwhile, Curt Flood, Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith remain mostly forgotten. The biggest of this week’s deals wouldn’t have been consummated in the days before free agency.

A quick primer for those not up on their history: In 1969, Flood challenged the reserve clause after being traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies. He ultimately lost in court. In 1975, an arbitrator ruled in McNally-Messersmith vs. Major League Baseball that any player will become a free agent after playing one year without a contract. In 1976, an agreement was signed allowing players to become free agents after six years.

Jim Kaat was there when it happened. On Friday I had a chance to ask the MLB Network analyst for his thoughts on the monumental decision. Fittingly, we were at Fenway Park for a game between the Red Sox and Yankees.

“We were always led to believe that the owners knew what they were doing,” said Kaat, who won 283 games between 1959-1983. “They felt they’d never lose that arbitration case, and when it happened it was a pleasant surprise to us. As players, what we thought was, ‘Wow, we’re going to get to play where we want.’ The owners were no longer going to be able to say, ‘You’re going to have to take what we’re offering you, because you can’t go anywhere else.’

“I was a little too far past my prime in 1976 to really take advantage of it. I came along about 10 years too early. Had it happened in 1966, I’d have been a $15 million a year guy. My last three years leading up to free agency would have been 17-11, 18-11 and 25-13, with ERAs under 3.00 and lots of innings.”

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Originally published: August 8, 2014. Last Updated: August 8, 2014.