Atlantic City Press - April 4, 1980

Could Be End of Free Agency


LOS ANGELES (AP) – It was only five years ago that the courts ruled that any baseball player could become a free agent at the expiration date of his contract. Now the owners want to, in effect, end free agency for all but the superstar. 


So here's a vote for the players in the latest, and certainly most serious, hassle in major league history, a hassle that could leave the 1980 season in ruins. 


The players decided last Tuesday to strike for the remainder of the exhibition season, then return to open the regular season next Wednesday. But they'll review the situation on May 22, and a walkout at that time seems likely. 


It's been made clear by both the Major League Players Association and team owners that free agent compensation is the major roadblock standing in the way of a basic four-year agreement to replace the one which expired last Dec. 31. 


Both sides appear adamant in their stands.


The owners want compensation for a lost "highly sought” free agent whereby the signing team, after protecting 15 players, would lose a player to the team originally losing the free agent. 


The players, meanwhile, say in effect “Why should we relinquish something we already have" — no compensation in such cases. 


In 1975, it was ruled that Andy Messersmith and Dave McSally were free agents and so was anybody else upon expiration of his contract. The next year, the players made a couple of major concessions by agreeing that a player would have to be a major leaguer for six years before becoming a free agent and that he could negotiate with only as many as 13 teams. 


Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Players Association, makes a number of rather significant points when he elaborates on this situation… 


In most cases, players need three or four years of seasoning before they reach the majors. When you add in another six years at the big league level, most players have no say as to where they'll play for nine or 10 years. 


When a player qualifies for free agency, or decides to take that route, he's not a kid anymore.


In the case of a superstar, it wouldn’t matter that a team could protect 15 players and then lose somebody. 


The top-flight player will command rich offers, compensation or not, but what about guys like Jay Johnstone, Freddie Patek, Joe Morgan, Rennie Stennett or John Curtis? These were among the players who signed free agent contracts during the most recent offseason. 


Do you think that say, the Dodgers would have signed Johnstone had they been able to protect only 15 players before giving someone up? The San Diego Padres, Johnstone's former team, would have probably had an opportunity at one of the young Dodger prospects like outfielder Rudy Law, infielder-outfielder Mickey Hatcher or infielder Pedro Guerrero. 


The owners say they're worried about the future, that a few elite teams will eventually dominate down the road because they'll have all the top talent. 


Perhaps that's true, but only last year three of the four division winners — Pittsburgh Cincinnati and Baltimore — didn't rely at all on free agents And the year before, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Kansas City won without such measures. 


And this year — well maybe there won't be a this year…