Flood and Messersmith for Cooperstown

Curt Flood

“Few have ever matched the grace and craftsmanship Curt Flood brought to [baseball], However, none has matched what he did for the game as a citizen.”—George F. Will.

Fifty years ago Sunday, Curt Flood’s challenge to baseball’s ancient and abused-by-the-owners reserve clause lost in the Supreme Court. Since Sunday was also Juneteenth, Flood’s widow seized upon the occasion to call for a fresh push to enshrine her pioneering husband in Cooperstown.

Judy Pace-Flood knows something about trailblazing in her own right. Long before she renewed her acquaintance with and married Flood, she was one of the only African American actresses to appear in prime time, portraying the patient wife of a black surgeon in the final season of the legendary 1960s serial Peyton Place.

“It cost him everything, he had no money, completely losing everything,’’ she told USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale.

But it was breaking his heart to walk away. He was going to do this no matter what happened. I can understand the process for nobody doing anything, or saying anything, just so happy to be playing the game. He was just ahead of his time. But he just kept pushing, and pushing. The Civil Rights movement gave him more strength. And, finally, it happened.

The splendid new documentary After Jackie chronicles both Jackie Robinson’s baseball career and post-playing civil rights activism, and the efforts of Flood and fellow Cardinals Bob Gibson and Bill White to bond their team against the still-persistent Jim Crow South and comparable attitudes elsewhere. It presents Flood as just what he was, a sensitive and intelligent man who could change hearts and minds in his clubhouse but found doing so beyond it a greater challenge than he found running fly balls down in center field.

After Jackie addresses Flood’s request for a raise to a six-figure salary for 1969 and then-Cardinals owner Gussie Busch’s initial demurral. That same spring, the players pushed for and got a serious remake of baseball’s player pension plan, including reduction of the vesting time to four years’ major league service and a larger contribution from the owners into the pension fund.

But Busch—who was known for treating his players a lot better than other owners did at the time—was not amused. Enough that he gave his players a dressing-down one fine spring training day that Flood wrote later was code for “behave or get out. I no longer felt like a ninety-thousand-dollar ballplayer but like a green recruit . . . I was sick with shame and so was everyone else on the Cardinals except Busch and his claque.”

After a down 1969 season, Flood got a call from general manager Bing Devine’s aide Jim Toomey: he’d been traded to the Phillies with veteran catcher Tim McCarver, relief pitcher Joe Hoerner, and outfielder Byrone Browne, in exchange for first baseman Dick Allen, second baseman Cookie Rojas, and relief pitcher Jerry Johnson. When the shock wore off, Flood told a friend there was “no way” he’d just “pack up and move twelve years of my life away from here.”

(I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: oh, the sad irony. To Flood, the trade amounted to being reduced to a piece of chattel. To Allen, who’d endured brutal racism in Philadelphia and actually applauded Flood’s quest, the trade amounted to his own Emancipation Proclamation.)

That November, Flood reached out to Major League Baseball Players Association director Marvin Miller to say he wanted to sue baseball challenging the reserve clause. Then, that not-so-foggy Christmas Eve, Flood fired the second shot heard ’round the world: his letter pleading his case first to commissioner Bowie Kuhn. As New York Times sportswriting legend Red Smith described it, incomparably, Kuhn spent an entire letter answering: “Run along, sonny, you bother me.”

Sonny didn’t exactly run along. He meant it when he said hell, no, he won’t go. Flood sat 1970 out on behalf of his new cause despite severe financial pressures some of which may have been provoked by his earlier civil rights activism stirring the usual racists and some of which may have been provoked by his stance against baseball’s reserve system.

His off-season business in tatters, Flood was receptive when Washington Senators owner Bob Short arranged to obtain his negotiating rights from the Phillies and made him a six-figure offer to join the team—promising to pay him no matter what regarding his lawsuit, and promising further that, if they couldn’t come to terms after the 1971 season, Short would release Flood and make him a free agent.

Flood gave it a try. But the toll taken on him by his reserve challenge and his business collapse was too heavy. He left the Senators in late April 1971, repairing to Majorca to buy a bar and begin sorting out his shattered life. He struggled with alcoholism, found work with his native Oakland’s parks department, and in 1986 re-acquainted with Judy Pace, whom he dated for a time after his first marriage collapsed but finally married in 1986. She helped get him to sobriety at last.

In public, he applauded when the reserve system was finally ended in 1975. In private, he feared he paid too steep a price. It took two more events to make Flood’s struggle pay off.

Event One: Athletics owner Charlie Finley reneging on a contracted-for insurance payment to Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter. Hunter took it to arbitration and won his free agency. After a bidding war he signed the third-most profitable offer, from the Yankees, because they agreed to parcel his $3 million to come the way he wanted it, including a set-aside to guarantee his children’s education.

Andy Messersmith

“Curt Flood stood up for us. [Catfish] Hunter showed what was out there. Andy showed us the way.”—Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons.

Event Two: Dodgers general manager Al Campanis made contract talks for 1975 a little too personal for pitcher Andy Messersmith’s liking. Messersmith refused from there to talk to anyone lower than team president Peter O’Malley, and he added a demand for a no-trade clause in the bargain. “We’ve never given one,” O’Malley said, “and we aren’t going to start now.”

Messersmith answered, in essence, “That’s what you think.” The Dodgers renewed his contract automatically after Messersmith wouldn’t sign a new deal. Then he went forth and led the National League with seven shutouts, nineteen complete games, 322 innings pitched, and finished second with his 2.29 ERA. He also earned a second straight Gold Glove and finished fifth in the league’s Cy Young Award voting.

By that August, though, it went from the personal to the bigger picture. With the Dodgers offering him more money to change his mind (at one point the offer reached three years and $540,000 total), Messersmith wouldn’t move an inch—especially after Miller opened his eyes about the reserve clause as it was written versus as it was abused for so long.

“There’s no reason why a club should be entitled to renew a player’s contract year after year if the player refuses to sign and wants to go elsewhere,” Messersmith said in due course, while seeing and raising a bit Flood’s once-fabled remark about a $90,000 a year slave still being a well-paid slave.

I thought about it for a long time and I didn’t do it necessarily for me, because I’m making a lot of money. I didn’t want people to think, ‘Well, here’s a guy in involuntary servitude at $115,000 a year.’ That’s a lot of bull. But then, when you stop and think about the players who have nowhere to go and no recourse . . . this isn’t for a guy like me or any other established ballplayer unless you’re having problems with your owner or something like that. It’s more for the guy who is sitting on the bench and who believes he hasn’t been given a chance.

Messersmith delivered the baby Flood sired.* He paid a price of his own for cutting the cord and slapping the infant on its hopeful butt. It took him until two days into the 1976 regular season to find a serious suitor, signing with the Braves for $1 million over three years. But between straining to prove himself worth the money and a series of injuries small and serious, Messersmith was finished as a top of the line pitcher and retired after 1979.

Those who opposed both men by parroting the ancient owners’ insistence that the end of the reserve era would mean the end of “competitive balance” (As if there was competitive balance when the Yankees were winning all those pennants all those years—Jim Bouton) discovered soon enough how wrong they were.

Once free agency settled in in earnest, after a few hiccups, there came the first decade of major league baseball’s life in which ten different teams won the ten World Series played: 1978-87. Since 1978, 23 different teams have won the World Series. That beats how many different teams have won the NFL’s Super Bowl, the NBA’s Naismith Trophy, and the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

Only one of those four major North American team sports lacks the salary cap for which pine a few too many witless old school baseball fans and chroniclers and a few too many of baseball’s owners. Hint: Its legends aren’t named Tom Brady, LeBron James, or Wayne Gretzky. And baseball’s owners today continue trying to find ways to cut players back down to size.

The push for baseball players’ free agency wasn’t made by a pair of scrubs, either.

In the long sunset of Hall of Famer Willie Mays’s career, Flood—whom George F. Will once called “Dred Scott in spikes”—was his league’s best defensive center fielder, and he had eight straight Gold Gloves for evidence before he launched a crusade for freedom in the same city where Dred Scott first brought his case for freedom. He’s also ninth all time for defensive runs above his league average for center fielders, +99.

Flood has something else in common with Scott aside from his race: Over a century apart, Scott and Flood proved the Supreme Court would never be allergic to ruling erroneously.

Messersmith was one of the game’s premier pitchers when he launched his own crusade for freedom, including the freedom to stay where he was. It’s easy to remember he won free agency. It’s not always easy to remember the issue that ignited him was the no-trade clause that’s long since been a standard in contracts signed by players achieving their free agency.

Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons phrased it short, sweet, and to the point after Messersmith prevailed before arbitrator Peter Seitz: “Curt Flood stood up for us. Hunter showed what was out there. Andy showed us the way. Andy made it happen for everybody.”

Right there you have the simplest argument on behalf of electing Flood and Messersmith to the Hall of Fame as the pioneers they were.

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* Dave McNally, you say? Well, yes—but for a small detail or two. Technically, the former Oriole pitching standout was an unsigned player for 1975, too, after he was traded to the Montreal Expos but the Expos reneged on the promise of a two-year deal. He tried to pitch in ’75, but his arm and shoulder refused to cooperate, and in early June he went home to Montana to run his Ford dealership.

It was only that August—when Miller began to fear Messersmith wouldn’t go the distance and take it all the way to the arbitration challenge, since the Dodgers kept sweetening the pot to get the stubborn pitcher to sign—when McNally entered the reserve challenge picture. According to John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm, Miller called McNally to ask: “I’d like to add your name to the grievance as insurance if Andy decides to sign a new Dodger contract.”

McNally said he’d be “willing to help” if needed. The Expos panicked. They sent team president John McHale to Montana to convince McNally to sign. McHale offered $125,000 for 1976 and, when McNally said he was finished anyway, offered a signing bonus of $25,000—even if all McNally did was show up to spring training.

The now-former pitcher talked to Miller the following day and told him, according to Helyar, “McHale wasn’t honest with me last year, and I’m not going to trust him again. It’s tempting to show up to spring training for twenty-five grand, but I have no intention of playing and it wouldn’t be right to take the money.”

But McNally—who died of cancer in 2002—was really only Miller’s insurance policy. It wasn’t quite his fault that he couldn’t go the distance unsigned in 1975, but it doesn’t change that Messersmith went the distance and did the proverbial heavy lifting.

Another numbers game—uniform numbers, that is

Fernando Valenzuela

Tyler Kepner and Jay Jaffe aren’t the only observers who think the Dodgers should retire Fernando Valenzuela’s number 34. 

The owners and the players have been talk-talking at last this week, in consecutive days’ meetings. It sure took long enough. Hope the owners are proud of themselves. Remember this: It’s as much of a lie to blame this lockout on the players as it is to call under-attack Ukraine a client of the State Department.

So until the owners show they’re serious about saving spring training and maybe a portion of the regular season to come, and admit that they could damn well have let baseball continue its hot-stove season and spring training while playing under the expired CBA and negotiating honourably with the players, I’m going to think about something else.

Retired uniform numbers, for example.

Blame it on The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe, responding to the New York Times‘s Tyler Kepner, in a tweet: “Your semiannual reminder that it’s past time for the #Dodgers to retire Fernando Valenzuela’s #34. Ridiculous waste of an opportunity to do so on the 40th anniversary of his rookie-season heroics in 2021.”

Seven years ago, writing elsewhere, I pondered retired numbers, including the Yankees’ flood worth of them, when they elected to retire Bernie Williams’s number 51. Valenzuela was an omission on my part when it came to numbers the Dodgers should retire. But I’m on board with it now.

Until too many innings and too many screwballs too young turned him into a journeyman Valenzuela was a great pitcher. He’s also become an icon after his pitching career ended, as a broadcaster two decades on, representing his fellow Latinos with insight and earning numerous honours from that community.

Mark Armour, the founder of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Bio Project, sees and raises. He thinks the Dodgers should also retire Don Newcombe’s 36. I’d be on board with that wholly. Big Newk had his struggles beyond his race—his worst enemy proved to be himself—but he was the first black man to start the first game of a World Series; he was the National League’s first Rookie of the Year (the award’s first two years were major league whole awards); and, he was the first Cy Young Award winner in 1956.

If we’re talking strictly about the Dodgers, still, I have two more numbers they should retire: 25 and 47.

Tommy John wore 25 as a Dodger. He was also a Dodger when he agreed to become the first pitcher to undergo the career-saving surgery that’s borne his name long since. If you take his career strictly on its own terms without the surgery he might pull up short of a Hall of Famer—though he was a better pitcher than newly-elected contemporary Jim Kaat by a few miles—but throw in his status as a pitching health co-pioneer and he deserves the honour. And his uniform number’s retirement.

Andy Messersmith wore 47 as a Dodger. He pitched terrifically as a Dodger. (ERA: 2.51; fielding-independent pitching: 3.15.) He also finished what Curt Flood started as a Dodger—he pitched 1975 without a contract, after then-GM Al Campanis offended him soul deep, then refused all subsequent big-money Dodger offers to cave in and took it all the way to an arbitrator.

Messersmith did the heaviest lifting. Arm-and-shoulder-addled but technically-unsigned Dave McNally walked away from the game that June and signed onto the grievance in August at Marvin Miller’s behest on a just-in-case basis, since Miller feared Messersmith might not go the distance. Fear unfounded. Messersmith went all the way and won what Flood couldn’t in the end: the end of the reserve era and the right of players to negotiate their services on an open market once and for all.

If that doesn’t deserve a number retirement, too, I’m lost for knowing what does.

Back seven years ago, I had other ideas about whose numbers should be retired. Let’s revisit a few of them:

Angels—Tim Salmon (15). The Kingfish was the franchise face until they signed Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero as a free agent. Salmon also helped the Angels win their only World Series to date, even if Troy Glaus was named that Series’s MVP. But don’t even think about retiring number 27 until Mike Trout’s career is over; Trout’s already been ten times the player Guerrero was, including Vlad the Impaler’s Hall-making years with the Montreal Expos.

Astros-–J.R. Richard (50). He’s still the arguable best pitcher the Astros have ever had. (Justin Verlander isn’t liable to endure long enough to stake a claim on that title, though he should have his number retired by the Tigers in due course.) The end of his career was nobody’s fault even if you could argue the Astros then were negligent in not smelling trouble when he complained of shoulder fatigue before the strokes.

Athletics—Lefty Grove (10), Al Simmons (7). Who cares that Simmons had a uniform number only one year and Grove, three? How do you not retire two Hall of Famers’ numbers? Especially that of the man who was, arguably, the greatest pitcher in “organised” baseball prior to World War II and integration and night ball?

Blue Jays—Carlos Delgado (25), John Olerud (9), and Cito Gaston (43). The two best first basemen in franchise history, and their only World Series-winning manager—who did that back-to-back while he was at it. Isn’t that case enough?

Braves—Fred Haney (2). Manager Haney led the Braves to their first back-to-back pennants and a World Series title the first time. That should speak for itself.

Brewers—Harvey Kuenn (32). Managed them to their only World Series appearance and took them to seven games. His free-swinging lineup of sluggers earned that team the nickname Harvey’s Wallbangers. How many teams do you know get nicknamed for their manager?

Cardinals—Curt Flood (21), Scott Rolen (27). Curt Flood stood up for us. [Catfish] Hunter showed what was out there. Andy [Messersmith] showed us the way.—Hall of Famer Ted Simmons. Rolen? He only solidified a Hall of Fame case as a Cardinal and, while he was at it, helped them win the 2006 World Series (and with a 1.213 Series OPS while he was at it).

Cubs—Gabby Hartnett (9), Joe Maddon (70). Hall of Fame catcher remembered almost strictly for “The Homer in the Gloamin’,” the ninth-inning game-winner as darkness approached then-unlit Wrigley Field, to put the Cubs in first place three days before they nailed the 1938 National League pennant. But Hartnett was also a well-above-average defensive catcher.

And if you don’t know why manager Maddon should have his Cubs number retired, you must have slept through the 2016 World Series.

Diamondbacks—For now, ask me when Ketel Marte’s (4) career is over.

Giants—Barry Bonds (25), Buster Posey (28). ‘Nuff said. I hope. (Do I really have to say Posey’s the greatest catcher in the history of the franchise?)

Guardians (former Indians)—Kenny Lofton (7), Early Wynn (24). Lofton’s a should-be Hall of Famer whose case deserves a thorough review from the Today’s Game Committee. Wynn is a Hall of Fame pitcher. If the Hall of Fame is a criteria for number retirement, Wynn’s been overdue since before John F. Kennedy was shot out of the White House.

Marlins—Josh Beckett (21). The first Fish pitcher to bag a World Series for them and win the Series MVP who wasn’t subjected to an immediate fire sale.

Mariners—Felix Hernandez (34), Ichiro Suzuki (51). The worst-kept secret in Seattle and elsewhere is that Ichiro’s going to Cooperstown. So why wait? The second worst-kept secret: King Felix may actually edge out Hall of Famer Randy Johnson as the greatest peak value pitcher the Mariners ever had, even adjusting the Big Unit for pitching as a Mariner in an era of insane offense.

Mets—Dwight Gooden (16), Keith Hernandez (17), Ed Kranepool (7), Darryl Strawberry (18), David Wright (5). Mex, Dr. K, Straw, and Captain America should be obvious. But Kranepool? He was only the longest-serving original Met (from 1962 he played eighteen seasons with the team), one of the most popular Mets, and a terrific pinch hitter in the final four or five seasons of his career.

Nationals—Ryan Zimmerman (11). There are reasons they call him Mr. National. They only begin with his entire sixteen-season career being played from the first year the Nats were open for business in Washington.

Orioles—Mike Mussina (35). Their best pitcher of the 1990s also happens to be a Hall of Famer. What are they waiting for, permission from the Yankees?

Padres—Dick Williams (23). If they could retire Steve Garvey’s 6 for helping them to their first World Series—despite his best years long behind him in Los Angeles, and despite not being their best player (though he did hit that game-winning bomb to send the NLCS to the deciding Game Five)—there’s an even greater case for retiring the 23 of the manager who shepherded them there in the first place.

Phillies—Jimmy Rollins (11), Chase Utley (26). The best middle infield combination in franchise history. Utley has a Hall of Fame case and Rollins comes up short enough of the Hall, but the Phillies never had a better pair surrounding second base at once and for so long.

Pirates—Elroy Face (26), Jim Leyland (14). Even if contemporary metrics make his signature season less than it seemed at the time, Face remains the best relief pitcher in franchise history. Leyland, of course, managed the Pirates back to greatness in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s.

Rangers—Frank Howard (33). I’m not entirely sure how the Rangers look upon their Washington past, but if they look kindly upon it then the behemoth bomber who was the Senators for all intent and purpose from 1965-71 deserves his number retired.

Rays—Joe Maddon (70). Commanded them to their first World Series in 2008.

Reds—Ernie Lombardi (4), Jim Maloney (46). Lombardi became a Hall of Fame catcher mostly by way of his big bat; Maloney was the Reds’ best pitcher of the 1960s.

Red Sox—Terry Francona (47), Roger Clemens (21). Clemens remains in a dead heat with Pedro Martinez as the greatest Red Sox pitcher, ever, though if you go by their fielding-independent pitching as Red Sox Martinez comes out slightly better. (Actual/alleged PEDs  Nazis beware: Clemens wasn’t suspect until after he left Boston, I think.) Francona, of course, managed them to the end of the actual or alleged Curse and won a second World Series on their bridge while he was at it, too.

Rockies—Clint Hurdle (13). Managed them to their only World Series thus far.

Royals—Whitey Herzog (24), Dan Quisenberry (29). The White Rat managed them to practically all American League postseasons in the late 1970s. Quisenberry, as delightful a character as he was a pitcher, was the best relief pitcher the Royals ever had until the brief but profound stature of H-D-H (Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera) in the mid-2010s.

Tigers—Jim Bunning (14), Mickey Lolich (29), Lou Whitaker (1). Two of the franchise’s four best post-World War II pitchers (Justin Verlander’s eventual 36 retirement is a given, and Jack Morris’s 47 is already retired), and their should-be Hall of Fame second baseman. Did I mention Bunning’s a Hall of Famer, too?

Twins—Joe Judge (5), Sam Rice (22), Johan Santana (57), Walter Johnson (25). The Twins may well disdain their Washington origins, too, but you can sort of understand why: the ancient legend went “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” But the Ancient Senators’ best first baseman (Judge), Hall of Fame outfielder (Rice), and greatest pitcher, period (you know who) deserve the honour. So does Santana, the greatest 21st Century pitcher the Twins have had.

(Fair disclosure: Johnson only wore a number after he became the team’s manager. But some technicalities deserve to be bypassed and if any Nat/Twin deserves a number retirement, it’s the Big Train.)

White Sox—Al Lopez (42). The South Siders should have retired Lopez’s 42 long before the game-wide retirement of Jackie Robinson’s 42 made it superflous. Just put the number up in Lopez’s White Sox colours anyway. The man who led the White Sox to their first World Series since the Black Sox’s 1919 deserves it.

Yankees—Mel Stottlemyre (30). As if they don’t have enough retired numbers already? But Stottlemyre was the Yankees’ best pitcher during their lost decade of 1965-75, though Fritz Peterson was an awfully close second. Stottlemyre also became a respected pitching coach for both the Mets and, in due course, the Yankees themselves. And how can you hand a man a Monument Park plaque without retiring his number?

Update: The Tigers plan indeed to retire Lou Whitaker’s number 1 this summer—assuming there’ll be a season.

Marvin and Ted, a love story revisited

Marvin Miller, Joe Torre

Marvin Miller (left) with then-Cardinals catcher-turned-third baseman Joe Torre at a 1972 press conference.

Yes, Marvin Miller decided before his death that being elected to the Hall of Fame was no longer worth it. Not even if it was no less than his due. “At the age of 91,” he said, “I can do without farce.”

But there’ll be a nice synergy in Miller and catcher Ted Simmons being inducted into Cooperstown Wednesday, along with two more from last year’s class, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker. Miller and Simmons were joined in an unlikely way early in Simmons’s career.

The pan-damn-ic then told the new Hall of Famers, “Wait ’till next year.” Wherever he reposes in the Elysian Fields, perhaps Miller has bumped into Charlie Watts, the lifelong drummer for a band that once sang, “You can’t always get what you want/but if you try sometimes, you just might find/you get what you need.”

What Miller and Simmons needed from the last-convened Modern Era Committee in 2019 was twelve votes minimum. Miller got the twelve, one shy of Simmons’s thirteen. Both men deserved Hall of Fame plaques long enough before they finally got them. And one inadvertently provided the other with invaluable intelligence.

At age 22 Simmons found himself the Cardinals’ regular catcher entering spring training 1972. Self-aware enough, Simmons decided his emergence should be worth more than a $6,000 raise. He refused to sign a new contract that would pay him one penny less than $30,000. The Cardinals’ general manager, Bing Devine, said not so fast, son, holding the team’s offer to somewhere in the lower $20,000s.

That was while Curt Flood’s reserve clause challenge awaited its day in the Supreme Court. (Flood, alas, would lose there, but he’d kick open a door that refused to be shut again.) Simmons started the reason without a signed new contract. The Cardinals renewed him automatically as the rules of the time allowed.

Everyone in baseball trained their eyes upon the sophomore catcher who belied the usual athletic stereotypes. (Among other things, Simmons would serve active and knowledgeable time on the board of a St. Louis art museum in due course.) They also trained their eyes on the reserve clause abused so long by the owners to bind their players like chattel, until they damn well felt like selling, trading, or releasing them.

Simmons played his way onto the National League’s 1972 All-Star team as its backup catcher. Once he went to Atlanta for the game, Devine rang his hotel phone post haste. Would Simmons kindly accept a mere $75,000—as in, the $30,000 he wanted for 1972 in the first place, plus $45,000 for 1973?

Miller watched Simmons a little nervously, too, knowing the kid pondered taking it to court himself. He understood completely when Simmons accepted Devine’s new proposal. But Simmons handed Miller intelligence you couldn’t buy even on the black market: Those  owners would rather have handed a barely-seasoned kid $75,000 than let any arbitrator get a look at the reserve clause even long distance through a telescope.

Miller had once been a United Steelworkers of America economist. After a players committee including two Hall of Famers (pitchers Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning) and two respected other veterans (pitcher Bob Friend, outfielder Harvey Kuenn) chose him to run their embryonic union, Miller won the rest of the players over by being just who he was—a brain, not a bludgeon. It didn’t hurt that Miller instilled an open-door policy: “It’s your union,” he insisted.

Miller didn’t follow the stereotypical union playbook, either. He may have kept the players’ eyes on the ultimate prize, but he knew and convinced them reasonably that it had to be done step by step, from pension and clubhouse issues forward. Even as he told them, as often as need be, “You are the game. Without you, there is no game.”

His two signature triumphs came almost by accident. The first was when then-Athletics owner Charlie Finley reneged on a contracted-for insurance payment to Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter. Hunter filed a grievance and won. He also became subject of a game-wide bidding war that reached the millions and ended with him taking the third-most lucrative offer put in front of him.

Why only the third? Because the Yankees (whose representative Clyde Kluttz was the former A’s scout who signed Hunter for the A’s in the first place) were willing to divide the dollars Hunter’s way, right down to a certain amount put into an annuity to guarantee his children’s education. It was still enough to make Hunter a rich man on a fair, open market.

But Hunter was a single, isolated case. His triumph didn’t mean the end of the reserve era just yet. To do that, it took then-Dodgers general manager Al Campanis making contract talks far too personal for pitcher Andy Messersmith’s taste in spring training 1975. Messersmith promptly refused to talk to anyone below team president Peter O’Malley. He also refused to sign any contract that didn’t include a no-trade clause.

The Dodgers merely harrumphed that they’d never given no-trade clauses before and they weren’t about to start now. Messersmith said, essentially, that he’d rather be caught naked in a barracuda school than let the Al Campanises dictate his baseball future. He, too, refused to sign a 1975 contract. The Dodgers, too, renewed him automatically under the old rules.

Messersmith pitched on and pitched very well. (He’d lead the National League in starts, complete games, and innings pitched, while throwing seven shutouts and finishing second with a 2.29 ERA.) He withstood the snark of both indignant, ignorant fans and indignant, artery-hardened sportswriters.

“Every time he took the ball,” Simmons once said, “everybody in management wanted him to fail and everybody from the players wanted him to succeed.” Just as long as they didn’t have to bat against him. (The National League’s hitters batted a mere .213 against Messersmith in 1975.)

By that August, Messersmith found himself receiving two things: continuing Dodger offers for then-glandular dollars, and an education from Miller about the reserve clause itself. He was also the only active player left that season who hadn’t signed a 1975 contract. By September, the Dodgers offered him a pot of $540,000 for three years including 1975. “Where’s that no-trade clause?” Messersmith retorted, essentially. Without it, he wouldn’t budge.

When Peter came up with the dough, I was adamant. The money was incredible, but they wouldn’t bring the no-trade to the table. I’d gotten stimulated by Marvin and Dick [Moss, the players’ union’s general counsel]. Now I understood the significance of what this was all about. I was tired of players having no power and no rights.

Ted Simmons

Now a Hall of Fame catcher, Ted Simmons as a Cardinal helped Miller build his leverage against the old reserve clause abuse.

That August, too, Messersmith agreed to file a grievance seeking his free agency if he remained unsigned. The season ended; Messersmith’s stout pitching alone couldn’t keep the Dodgers from finishing second in the National League West. He filed the grievance.

(Arm-and-shoulder-troubled pitcher Dave McNally, technically unsigned but intending to stay retired after leaving the Expos in June, agreed to join the grievance in August, upon Miller’s persuasion—as insurance, in case the Dodger dollars finally seduced Messersmith, who refused to be seduced by dollars alone.)

The owners had no essential argument better than “this is the way we’ve always done it.” The evidence in the grievance included a newspaper article, in which penurious Twins owner Calvin Griffith basically admitted proper reserve clause application allowed a player’s free agency after one contracted season and a second team option season and no more.

Messersmith won. (The owners promptly fired arbitrator Peter Seitz.) The Lords of the Realm author John Helyar described Simmons as “choked up” when he said, “Curt Flood stood up for us. [Catfish] Hunter showed what was out there. Andy showed us the way. Andy made it happen for us all.”

Miller was smart enough not to demand immediate free agency for all. Even he recognised teams had certain rights in players they developed, even as he insisted baseball players deserved the same rights as any other American—from the greenest labourer to the most seasoned executive—to test their value on a fair, open job market when no longer under contract.

It did far more for the good of the game than the artery-hardened hysterics of 1975 would have had you believe, especially when they mourned the death of “competitive balance.” Pace Mark Twain, the rumours of that death would prove greatly exaggerated. More teams have won the World Series since the Messersmith triumph than won the Series before it.

It’s not the players’ fault that the owners since have tried everything in their power, and sometimes beyond it, to try putting them back into their “places.” (The 1980s collusion, anyone? Isolated front-office executives willingly handing the gold to players who’d barely proven themselves worth copper? The 1994 strike born of the owners insisting the players stop them before they overspent/mis-spent/mal-spent again? Tanking?)

And they said free agency would destroy the undestroyable game. If you’d asked former commissioner Fay Vincent about that, he’d tell you what he told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in 2009: Blaming Miller for “destroying” baseball was “like blaming Thomas Edison for putting the candle industry out of business,” which didn’t happen, either.

Perhaps the only thing more astonishing than the owners’ post-Messersmith chicaneries was the years passing by with the idea of Miller in the Hall of Fame not so popular with his former clients (he left the union in 1982) as his work on their behalf. No less than Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said the Hall of Fame should be for players only. You wonder what he thought when the Hall inducted Effa Manley—co-owner of the Negro National League’s Newark Eagles—as a pioneer in 2006.

“Instead of pointing to the sky,” the late Jim Bouton told Crasnick, referring to gestures often made by players crossing the plate after hitting home runs, “today’s players should be pointing to Marvin Miller.” As also to Curt Flood, Ted Simmons, Catfish Hunter, Andy Messersmith, and others who collaborated to do the once unthinkable.

Simmons himself went on to enjoy a career that should have gotten him elected to Cooperstown. His peak value matches that of the average Hall of Fame catcher. He went one and done in his only year’s eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Hall ballot. Exactly why never really seemed clear. If he was a better hitter than catcher, the metrics simple and complex alike still show him the number eleven catcher ever to strap it on.

Maybe it was residual ill will over Simmons’s late-career tangle with Whitey Herzog. (Herzog traded him to the Brewers citing defensive shortcomings, after he declined moving to another field position. Yet Herzog eventually became a member of the Modern Era Committee that finally elected Simmons.) Maybe they had a problem marrying baseball’s most honorific museum to an art museum board member.

Miller died in 2012 with only one other regret: not having been able to convince the MLBPA to revisit the 1980 pension realignment that froze players with short careers prior to 1980 out of the pension plan. Players since 1980 need only 43 days major league time to receive a pension and one day to receive health benefits.

The only thing the frozen-out have received since comes from a 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-MLBPA leader Michael Weiner: $625 per quarter for every 43 days’ major league service time for up to four years. Before you say that’s something, at least, be reminded that they can’t pass those dollars to their loved ones if they pass before the final dollars are collected.

The MLBPA leadership since Miller’s departure has little to no known desire anywhere in its ranks to redress that or anything else involving the pension freeze-out. Attrition has reduced the number of affected players from over 1,100 to just over 600. Would anyone with leverage in the game now think to resolve Miller’s regret?

“Nobody has picked it up,” former Twins pitcher Tom Johnson, one of the affected, told me last December. “Don Fehr [Miller’s successor] didn’t pick it up, [present MLBPA director] Tony Clark hasn’t picked it up, nobody has picked it up and cared about it. I wish they’d go back and listen to that.”

Listening was one of Miller’s strong suits. “It took forever for each of us to get in,” Simmons has said. “He was the real deal. During my career, Marvin was the Players Association. He was an incredible man who was very special to me specifically. It’s an honor to be inducted with him. It’s bittersweet for his family but I’m lucky I can arrive in the flesh.”

Simmons has also said he hoped restoring the Hall inductions would be a stride in the right direction of returning life to something resembling normalcy. Surely he knows that “normalcy” doesn’t always mean without hiccups or pratfalls, both of which baseball has had in abundance for too long.

Portions of this essay have been published previously.

A Curt Flood Award? The first should go to Andy Messersmith

“Curt Flood stood up for us. [Catfish] Hunter showed what was out there. Andy showed us the way.”—Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons.

My first notice came when I saw San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser’s praise: “How wonderful! The [Major League Baseball Players Association] is instituting a Curt Flood Award for the Oakland native whose efforts helped bring about free agency and allow players to, eventually, be paid their worth on the open market. It will be handed out for the first time Thursday.”

I know who should receive the first Curt Flood Award, and I hope to God the Players Association thinks likewise. The first Flood Award ought to go to Andy Messersmith.

Flood’s Christmas Eve 1969 letter to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn was the Second Shot Heard ‘Round the World. “After twelve years in the Major Leagues,” he began, “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” Flood fired his gun from the same city in which a certain former slave proclaimed that living now on free soil made him thus a free man.

Small wonder that George F. Will would nickname Flood Dred Scott in Spikes. “[Scott] was not the last time,” Will wrote in 1993, “that the Supreme Court would blunder when asked when a man can be treated like someone’s property . . . Six years later—too late to benefit him—[Flood’s] cause prevailed. The national pastime is clearly better because of that. But more important, so is the nation, because it has learned one more lesson about the foolishness of fearing freedom.”

Flood’s was the groundbreaker that didn’t quite make it. But the graceful center fielder kicked a door open just wide enough for further pressure. Catfish Hunter kicked it a little further open in 1974, after Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley reneged on a contracted-for insurance payment to the Hall of Fame pitcher and Hunter was thus awarded his free agency.

The Hunter case didn’t challenge the reserve clause itself. The bidding war to follow for his services was won by the team who actually offered him the third-highest dollar-worth amount among the suitors but the division of the dollars Hunter wanted most, including an annuity to guarantee his children’s education. But it shone a light his fellow players had only suspected might reveal platinum on a fair, open job market.

The official name of the case to come would be John A. Messersmith vs. Los Angeles Dodgers. (Messersmith preferred to be known as Andy, though his middle name was actually Alexander.) The official net result of his almost unexpected 1975 challenge was to finish what Flood began. Almost unexpected?

Messersmith first emerged as a California Angels comer with a bristling fastball, a deadly changeup, a 2.77 ERA, a 3.04 fielding-independent pitching rate, and an upbeat personality that didn’t mind crossing the line to periodic flakiness. The Angels traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in November 1972, in a multi-player swap that made a somewhat temporary Angel out of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

He was just as good and stubborn on the mound with the Dodgers, finishing fifth in the 1973 National League ERA race (2.70), then becoming one of the league’s two 20-game winners with a 2.59 ERA in 1974 for a pennant-winning Dodgers aggregation. He also finished second to his relief pitching teammate Mike Marshall in the Cy Young Award voting.

“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever managed,” said his manager, Walter Alston, before that World Series. “He can do it all. He can pitch, field his position, has a good move to first . . . Andy is the kind of guy who wants the baseball. He wants to pitch and that’s why I put him up there with the other great pitchers I’ve had the good fortune to manage.”

Andy was also the kind of guy who proved to be just as stubborn talking contract as getting hitters out. He reported unsigned to spring training 1975, the original issue being not whether he’d get a well-earned raise from the $100,000 he earned in 1974 but how much of a raise. Then, according to Wall Street Journal writer John Helyar in The Lords of The Realm: The Real History of Baseball, the Dodgers’ then-general manager, Al Campanis, screwed the proverbial pooch:

As they sat in [Campanis’s] Vero Beach office . . . Campanis infuriated the pitcher. Quite apart from how well the pitcher had performed, quite apart from how much the Dodgers could allegedly afford, he injected a deeply “personal issue.” (Even eighteen years later, the matter cut so deep with Messersmith he wouldn’t elaborate on it.”)

Two things happened. One, Messersmith severed talks with the GM. “This is way out of the boundaries of negotiations; this is something else,” he told Campanis. “I’m not going to deal with you anymore.” He insisted on shifting the talks to Peter O’Malley, the club’s president. The other thing to emerge was a new non-monetary demand. No way, Messersmith decided, would he let Al Campanis be in a position to dictate his career. He’d already had to change teams once when he crossed his first GM, the Angels’ Dick Walsh. Now he wanted a no-trade clause in his contract. “I’m going to have some control of my destiny,” declared Messersmith.

O’Malley was more to Messersmith’s taste but no more amenable to a no-trade clause. “We’ve never given one,” he said, “and we aren’t going to start now.”

So Messersmith refused to sign a new contract and pitched 1975 without one. “At the start,” he’d say later, “it was all personal. Al Campanis had stirred my anger, and it became a pride issue. When I get stubborn, I get very stubborn.” The National League’s hitters got a not-so-friendly reminder. Messersmith led the league with forty starts and seven shutouts, and finished second with his 2.29 ERA, and the hitters only hit .213 against him.

“Every time he took the ball,” Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons said, “everybody in management wanted him to fail and everybody from the players wanted him to succeed. He was doing it for us all.”

By August, however, Messersmith found himself pitching for something above and beyond the need to stuff Al Campanis. The union’s original executive director, Marvin Miller, called him. By that time baseball had only one unsigned player on active duty—Messersmith himself. Miller wanted to know if Messersmith would consider filing a grievance seeking free agency if he finished the season unsigned.

The Dodgers didn’t make it simple for him. Neither did the near-constant questions from sportswriters Helyar summed up as, “So how ’bout that contract, Andy?” They kept hiking the money the longer and the better Messersmith pitched. Come September, Helyar noted, the offer was three years and $540,000 total. But the offer still excluded the no-trade clause that was Messersmith’s most unbreakable demand.

“We had no intention of trading Andy Messersmith,” O’Malley insisted. “He was a quality individual, a quality performer, and a delight to have on the team.” Messersmith took one look at Campanis still in the front office and decided there was no dollar amount able to buy him off.

“When Peter came up with the dough, I was adamant,” Helyar quoted Messersmith remembering. “The money was incredible, but they wouldn’t bring the no-trade to the table. I’d gotten stimulated by Marvin and [union general counsel] Dick [Moss]. Now I understood the significance of what this was all about. I was tired of players having no power and no rights.”

Miller’s only concurrent worry was whether the incredible money would back Messersmith off the grievance track. The union director thus enlisted pitcher Dave McNally, technically unsigned but contemplating retirement following persistent arm soreness. McNally agreed join a grievance. Messersmith had no intention of backing away from it. “I’ve come this far,” he said. “I need to see this through.”

There’s no reason why a club should be entitled to renew a player’s contract year after year if the player refuses to sign and wants to go elsewhere. I thought about it for a long time and I didn’t do it necessarily for me, because I’m making a lot of money. I didn’t want people to think, ‘Well, here’s a guy in involuntary servitude at $115,000 a year.’ That’s a lot of bull. But then, when you stop and think about the players who have nowhere to go and no recourse … this isn’t for a guy like me or any other established ballplayer unless you’re having problems with your owner or something like that. It’s more for the guy who is sitting on the bench and who believes he hasn’t been given a chance.

When the hearings in the case finally took place before arbitrator Peter Seitz, Messersmith stood his ground. And the earth moved under his feet.

After first flattening Kuhn—especially the commissioner’s staggering bid to claim that the end of the reserve clause would mean corrupted or thrown games—Moss delivered a knockout punch with the least likely glove: Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith, courtesy of a Minneapolis Star story from March 1974: “If [a player] doesn’t sign by March 10, I can invoke the option clause. If I do that, I can cut him as much as I want up to 20 percent. Of course, he would then be playing out his option. At the end of the season he would be a free agent.”

In other words, for decades the owners used the strict language of uniform players contract Section 10(A) unlawfully, agreeing among themselves not to sign players who refused their incubment teams’ offers. Seitz, who preferred (and indeed all but begged) that the owners and the players negotiate and settle themselves, was left no choice after the owners’ Player Relations Committee leader John Gaherin told him, “There’s no change in our position. So turn the crank.”

Seitz turned the crank. Miller signed “assent” and Gaherin signed “dissent” on the document aboard which Seitz ruled in favour of Messersmith. (And McNally, though it was understood if often forgotten that the former Baltimore Orioles standout had signed onto the case strictly as a human insurance policy.) Gaherin promptly and almost apologetically handed Seitz a letter firing him as baseball’s arbitrator.

“Curt Flood stood up for us,” Simmons said. “[Catfish] Hunter showed what was out there. Andy showed us the way. Andy made it happen for us all. It’s what showed a new life.”

It would also have been nice and in the spirit of Flood and Messersmith if the union had thought concurrently to finish what former executive director Michael Weiner began in 2011, and bring complete and final pension redress to what remain 600 plus short-career major league players frozen out of the 1980 pension re-alignment.

Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig made possible their current stipend of $625 per quarter for every 43 days’ major league service time for up to four years. The bad news: those players can’t pass the stipend on to their families should they pass on before the stipend ends. They also can’t be part of the players’ medical plan. Miller himself is known to have said that failing to review and revamp that 1980 pension realignment while he led the union was his biggest regret.

But if there’s a better inaugural recipient of the Curt Flood Award than the man who finished what Flood began, I’m unaware of him. Baseball players since have known what they owe Flood. They don’t always remember what they owe Messersmith, too. Giving him the first Flood Award would remind them powerfully.

Marvin and Ted, a love story

2019-12-08 TedSimmonsMarvin Miller Press ConferenceWhen all was said and finally done, Marvin Miller got what he no longer wanted. He’d said it expressly and pointedly enough, citing specifically the assorted Veterans Committees he believed with certain merit were often enough stacked for certain results. “At the age of 91,” he said, “I can do without farce.”

Miller’s name turned up on the Modern Era Committee ballot now concluded, and there emerged a bristling debate as to whether Miller’s express wishes did or didn’t supercede the prospect that, at long enough last, he would attain even posthumously the honour many believed too long overdue but his family believed should be set aside according to his very own wishes.

More than most baseball men Miller knew that the Rolling Stones were right about one thing at least, namely that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. What he needed from this year’s Modern Era Committee to go into the Hall of Fame was twelve votes, and he got them, one shy of the thirteen awarded to enshrine former catcher Ted Simmons.

Wherever he reposes in the Elysian Fields now, Miller didn’t get what he wanted but got what he needed, and it’s to lament that previous Veterans Committees or their 21st Century successors-by-category didn’t give it to him while he was still alive and well enough to accept and appreciate it. But there’s a nice synergy in Miller going in however posthumously with Simmons who is very much alive, well, and working as an Atlanta Braves scout today.

Even as Curt Flood’s reserve clause challenge awaited its day before the Supreme Court, Simmons himself came close enough to challenging the clause himself, entering his second year as the St. Louis Cardinals’ regular catcher, who thought establishing himself thus even at age 22 was worthy of just a little bit more than a $6,000 or thereabout pay raise.

Simmons refused to sign for 1972 for a penny less than $30,000. The Cardinals’ general manager, Bing Devine, said not so fast, son, and held in the lowest $20,000s. Simmons opened the season without a contract, the Cardinals renewed him automatically as the rules of the time allowed, and everyone in baseball cast their jeweler’s eyes upon the sophomore catcher who defied the athletic stereotype (among other things, he’d serve time on the board of a St. Louis art museum and a knowledgeable one at that) and the clause that owners abused for generations to bind their players like chattel until they damn well felt like trading, selling, or releasing them.

This wasn’t a veteran who’d seen too much and heard too much more; this was a kid whom you might have thought had everything to lose but who lived as though principle trumped even a three-run homer. He played onward and refused any Cardinals entreaty that didn’t equal a $30,000 salary, then went to Atlanta the selected All-Star choice as the National League’s backup catcher. He’d barely landed and checked in when Devine rang the phone. Would Simmons kindly accept $75,000; or, the $30,000 he asked for for 1972 and $45,000 for 1973?

Miller watched Simmons very nervously, knowing the kid pondered taking it to court if things came that way, never mind that Flood had yet to get his Supreme Court ruling. (And lost, alas.) He understood completely when Simmons accepted Devine’s new proposal, but the Simmons case handed Miller intelligence you couldn’t buy on the black market or otherwise: the owners would rather hand a lad $75,000 than let any arbitrator get to within ten nautical miles of the reserve clause.

A former United Steelworkers of America economist, Miller won skeptical players over in the first place by being just who he was, and he wasn’t the stereotypical union man with a bludgeon instead of a brain, pressing hardest on the point that no concern of theirs was out of bounds and that the doors to the Players Association’s office would remain open whenever they wanted. His mantra was, “It’s your union,” a mantra one wishes was that of numerous other American labour unions to whom the rank and file were and often still are, generally, to be seen and not heard.

Ahead of the Simmons issue still lay Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter to shine a light on what a fair, open market portended for baseball players, when Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley reneged on insurance payments mandated in Hunter’s contract, and an arbitrator hearing Hunter’s grievance ruled in favour of the righthander. At once, Hunter’s Hertford, North Carolina home hamlet became baseball’s hottest address, teams swooping in prepared to offer him the moon, the stars, safe passage through the Klingon Empire, and grazing rights on the planets of his choice.

Hunter merely astonished one and all by finally signing the third-richest offer in front of him, at seven figures plus for the next five seasons, and one that came at almost the eleventh minute, because the Yankees—whose representative Clyde Kluttz went back with Hunter his entire career to that point—were willing to divide the dollars according to his wishes, right down to an annuity to guarantee his children’s education. After writing the division on a napkin in a diner nook, Hunter’s first question ahead of the dollars to be done was whether the Yankees could or would do that. They could. They did.

And ahead of that, still, lay Andy Messersmith, one of the game’s best pitchers, pitching for and haggling contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in spring 1975. When those hagglings turned a little too personal for Messersmith’s taste, thanks to general manager Al Campanis injecting personal and not baseball issues and stinging the pitcher to his soul (and to this day he refuses to discuss it), Messersmith refused to talk to any executive lower than heir apparent Peter O’Malley and demanded a no-trade clause in the contract to come.

Like Simmons, Messersmith refused to sign unless he got the clause, out of refusing now to let the Al Campanises dictate his future if he could help it. Like Simmons, Messersmith played on in 1975, pitching well enough that when fans and artery-hardened sportswriters weren’t needling him about his unsigned contract the Dodgers were trying to fatten his calf in dollar terms. They offered him princely six-figure annual salaries at three years, but they refused to capitulate on the no-trade clause.

“I never went into this for the glory and betterment of the Players Association,” Messersmith, ordinarily what John Helyar (in The Lords of the Realm) described as happy-go-lucky and a little flaky, said much later. “At the start it was all personal. Al Campanis had stirred my anger, and it became a pride issue. When I get stubborn, I get very stubborn.” Indeed not until August 1975 did Miller reach out to the still-unsigned Messersmith, the last man standing among six players who opened 1975 without signed contracts. Only then did Messersmith agree to file a grievance seeking free agency if he finished the season unsigned.

Messersmith followed through. (Retiring pitcher Dave McNally, technically unsigned but intending to stay retired, agreed to join the grievance as insurance in case the Dodgers’ dollars seduced Messersmith, who wouldn’t be seduced.) The owners refused to listen when such representatives of their own as their Player Relations Committee leader (and then-Milwaukee Brewers chairman) Ed Fitzgerald, pleaded with them to consider negotiating a revision of the reserve system. “We need to negotiate while we’re in a power position,” he pleaded. Plea denied with the very pronounced sound of a gunshot’s bullet going through the owners’ feet.

And—abetted among other evidence by a newspaper article, in which no less than Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith acknowledged a proper reserve clause application would make a player a free agent after one signed season and one option season, properly applied—arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in Messersmith’s favour. “Curt Flood stood up for us,” Simmons would say. (Helyar described him as choked up.) “[Catfish] Hunter showed us what was out there. Andy showed us the way. Andy made it happen for us all.”

Miller was smart enough not to demand immediate free agency for all, recognising as he did that teams did have certain rights in players they developed even as he knew, and insisted, that baseball players should have the same rights as any other American from the greenest labourer to the most seasoned executive to test themselves on a fair, open job market when they were no longer under contract.

It did more for the good of the game than the artery-hardened hysterics of the day would have allowed, especially in their lamentations over the coming death of competitive balance. (Pace Mark Twain, the reports of its death were extremely exaggerated, and still are: among other things, more teams have won World Series since the Messersmith ruling than won the Series before it.) But few things were more astonishing than the owners’ subsequent chicaneries, unless it was seeing the years go passing by with the idea of Miller in the Hall of Fame not as popular with many of his former clients as his work on their behalf.

Simmons, of course, went forward to enjoy a career that should have gotten him elected to Cooperstown; his peak value matches that of the average Hall of Fame catcher. He went one and done in his only year’s eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Exactly why never seemed clear, other than perhaps residual ill will over Simmons’s late-career tangle with Whitey Herzog (who traded him to the Brewers citing defensive shortcomings, after he declined repositioning the field), but the advanced metrics show Simmons the tenth best catcher to strap it on, ever. Maybe they had a problem marrying baseball’s most honorific museum to an art museum board director.