Written by Andrew Cicco
The last out has been made, the Commissioner’s Trophy is in Los Angeles for the first time since 1988, and the season is finished. It’s over.
There won’t be another pitch thrown in the major leagues for two and a half months. It’s time for everyone to rest after what was one of the most unusual seasons Major League Baseball (MLB) has ever seen. It’s over.
From now until mid-February, there won’t be any baseball. There will just be memories. This chapter of MLB has concluded. It’s over.
Now, it’s time for the epilogue.
At 2 p.m. on Oct. 28, free agency began. Once the World Series ended, the offseason officially started, paving the way for players to find themselves new homes and for front offices to rebuild teams. Over the last few years, we’ve seen player deals that have led to broken records dating back to the dead ball era and, of course, our fair share of flops. Right now, we’re sitting at an anxiety-riddled but all-too-familiar “calm before the storm;” not a single thing has happened yet beyond teams extending a few formality offers. The uneasy pin-drop silence indicates astronomical things to come, which can feel like a lifetime when you’re stuck in the limbo that is the post-World Series lull. So, for now, it’s dead out there. But, I don’t anticipate that lasting for long.
If you look back in the deep history of baseball and compare the contract years and numbers to today’s time, you’ll notice a bit of an extreme difference. Back in the 1920s, Babe Ruth had his contract sold to the New York Yankees for a then-record-breaking $100,000. Gerritt Cole, a newly-minted New York Yankee, just finished the first year of his $324 million contract. Cole’s contract is for nine years. Ruth’s was for 12. Needless to say, there’s been a big jump.
As Newton’s first law says, an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an external force. For years, the player deals were at rest, sticking to the same system for years upon years. Then one day, an external force came along and whacked it into motion — specifically an upward motion. When did it happen, you ask? Around the time of Bob Gibson’s dominance with the World Champion Cardinals: 1969.
On Oct. 7 of that year, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and, the centerpiece of the story, Curt Flood, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas (yes, his name is Cookie). Once the deal was done, Flood refused to report to Philly for the game. Flood didn’t want to associate with the Phillies who, according to Flood, were playing in an environment of “belligerence and racism.” Both St. Louis and Philly were pressuring him to get on the move; the Phillies even offered him a $100,000 contract. Instead, Flood took his case to court, challenging the “reserve clause” and demanding to be a “Free Agent.”
Let me explain: The “reserve clause” used to be a part of contracts that stated the rights to players were retained by the team upon the contract’s expiration. Basically, if you were under one of these clauses, you couldn’t play for another team unless traded, sold or released. Flood challenged this clause as a player, took his case to court against former commissioner Bowie Kuhn and ended up losing to MLB 3-5. Years later, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) pushed harder to rid the clause, with Flood as the inspiration. In December of 1975, that clause was finally struck down and, years later, the Curt Flood Act of 1998 helped restore order between the players and the front office. Because of Flood, the management couldn’t control the players anymore, and an entire new avenue of playing experience was opened. Players no longer were bound to whatever they were stuck in; they were, and are now, free to explore their options.
The offseason continues now through the beginning of February. To stay up-to-date with all the breaking news, updates and trades, log on to MLB.com.