If this was a Hollywood script, the case filed by Curt Flood would have sped through the lower courts on its way to the Supreme Court which would hear the case expeditiously, rule in favor of the plaintiff and Curt Flood would take the field for the Cardinals that Spring finishing his career as a premier center fielder with accolades from players and fans alike. Except that none of this happened.
What did happen is that Curt Flood sat out the entire 1970 season while awaiting the courts to make their rulings nudging the case forward. In the end, the Supreme Court did get his case and subsequently ruled in favor of the owners by re-acknowledging baseball ‘s exemption from antitrust laws. Nevertheless, it was all downhill from there and with the advent of salary arbitration won by the players in 1970, it was only a matter of time before players would reach full free agency status.
In the interim however, baseball saw itself in full chaos mode and some rather colorful moments unfolded creating a full fledged and widely publicized
circus atmosphere. One of these involved Charlie Finley (left), the ubiquitous owner of the Oakland A’s, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter (right)whose nickname alone became the stuff of legend. In a dispute over how his salary would be paid (Hunter wanted half of his earnings deferred to a annuity), Catfish emerged as the winner and was granted free agent status by the arbiter and subsequently became George Steinbrenner’s golden boy poster child when the Yankees signed Hunter to the first multi-year contract worth in excess of a million dollars.
To the surprise of no one, the player agents came running and players signed up for their services. Previously, contracts were of the boilermakers type and were written by management, presented to the player who looked at the bottom line and signed. Now, with more money on the table, players saw fit the need to be represented at the bargaining table by an agent who invariably was an attorney. Inevitably, once in the hands of the lawyers, contracts because more voluminous in both content and scope. And if wasn’t only about salary. Clauses containing language regarding things like a private room while on the road, first class airfare if traded, airfare and accommodations for family road trips all would become commonplace in a players contract – or at least the ones who could command those and other perks.
The agents also provided other “services” for the player as time went on. Previously, a player would be contacted by a company and would be asked to endorse a product. Joe DiMaggio had his Mr. Coffee, Ted Williams, an avid fisherman, his sporting goods outside income, and Mickey Mantle his beer commercials etc. Now, the players had someone to act on their behalf by pursuing these ventures without so much as lifting a finger. In essence, Hollywood truly had arrived in baseball.
Arguement will rage forever as to whether or not these changes have been good for baseball. They certainly have been good for players. But I would argue that they’ve been good for us as well as fans of the game. Players today only need to concern themselves with their performance on the field. The rest takes care of itself. They can stay conditioned year round, they don’t need part time jobs in the off-season, and they can be shielded by any number of other distractions that take away energy and time from their daily lives and most importantly what they do 162 times a year……….