The pitching mound had been lowered, the designated hitter added, and baseball was looking like the modern game save for one thing: Free Agency. In the 19th century, players started getting paid more than the average worker. In order to control salaries, baseball created the Reserve Clause in 1879 which said that even if a player’s contract expired, the team that contract was with still retained rights to their services. Players were given one-year contracts, and if they refused to sign, they couldn’t sign with another team.
The Federal League was formed in 1914 to compete with the Major Leagues, but only lasted two seasons. After 1915, the Major Leagues bought out most of the owners of the Federal Leagues, giving them ownership in Major League teams, or other considerations. The owner of one of those teams, the Baltimore Terrapins, refused to be bought out and brought suit against the National League under the Sherman Anti-trust Act. That came to a head in 1922 in Federal Baseball Club vs. National League which created the MLB Anti-Trust exemption. Apparently because baseball was an amusement, it didn’t fall under the same rules for interstate commerce.
That all changed in 1975 when an arbitrator struck down the reserve clause and granted Free Agency to two pitchers: Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. From 1976, Free Agency was born, and players were no longer bound by the Reserve Clause.
A quick synopsis: in 1969, Curt Flood fought against being traded. He gave up his career in baseball. He believed that the Reserve Clause was cause for collective bargaining, and the first collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association was reached by Marvin Miller in 1970. That started the ball rolling for Free Agency to be granted by the arbitrator in 1975.
Who jumps out to you?
Player list (career WAR in parentheses):
- Fangraphs Career WAR Leaders
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