At the Brink of Free Agency: Creating the Foundation for the Messersmith-McNally Decision - 1968-1975
One of the most dramatic periods in baseball’s long history of labor relations occurred from 1968 through 1975. The Major League Baseball Players Association negotiated baseball’s first Basic Agreement in 1968 without the benefit of any leverage that could alter most of Organized Baseball’s long practices that controlled the players’ mobility and wages. In 1975, however, the union won an arbitration panel hearing that determined that pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith were free agents after playing one full season under the renewed option year of their contracts and filing a grievance under the newly adopted arbitration process. This stunning result fundamentally altered Organized Baseball’s reserve system and launched free agency and the era of tremendous salary growth for major league baseball players. This article highlights the stories of more than twenty players who refused to sign contracts before reporting to spring training between 1968 and 1975. Part I of the article provide a brief discussion of the creation of the reserve system during the nineteenth century. Part II offers a brief description of the three-year period from 1965 to 1968 that was a prelude to Al Downing’s decision in 1968 to report to spring training without signing his contract offer from the New York Yankees. Part III discusses Downing’s negotiations with the Yankees. Part IV covers events from 1969 to 1972 including the significance of Ted Simmons’ contractual dispute with the St. Louis Cardinals. Part V recounts the stories of the twenty players who began the 1973 through 1975 seasons without signing new contracts. Although all of these players, except Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith, ultimately reached an agreement or disappeared from the major league baseball scene, their collective efforts were an important contribution to the Players Association’s winning strategy over the owners.
Edmonds, Edmund P., "At the Brink of Free Agency: Creating the Foundation for the Messersmith-McNally Decision - 1968-1975" (2010). Writings. 5.
Reprinted with permission of Southern Illinois University Law Journal.