Come To Think of It: The Day That Changed Major League Baseball Forever

Bob WarjaSenior Writer IApril 11, 2009

It was 33 years ago today. No, that's not a lost outtake from The Beatles. That's the day that baseball salaries starting escalating beyond our wildest dreams. Or nightmares.

Well, sort of. To be specific, on this date, Andy Messersmith signed a three-year, $1 million contract with the Atlanta Braves after being granted free agency by an arbitrator.

It was as the result of something known as the Seitz Decision, and it changed the game of baseball forever.

According to Wikipedia, "The Seitz decision was a ruling by arbitrator Peter Seitz on Dec. 23, 1975 which declared that Major League Baseball players became free agents upon playing one year for their team without a contract, effectively nullifying baseball's reserve clause."

Pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were the players involved in the ruling. Since both players were in their option year, yet had not signed a contract, they insisted that they should be allowed to sign with any team that wanted them the next season.

Of course, the owners disagreed, arguing that under the reserve clause, the one-year contracts were perpetually renewed.

The players agreed to arbitration, and Seitz later issued his ruling that Messersmith and McNally were free to bargain with other teams because organized baseball could not maintain a player's services indefinitely.

Messersmith's contract with the Braves was historic for baseball because it eventually led to free agency being included in the next collective bargaining agreement.

This all happened seven years after Curt Flood first challenged the reserve clause.

Meanwhile, salaries have increased exponentially. Today, the average MLB salary is $3,240,206.

Courtesy of The Biz of Baseball:

"On the flip side, 68 players, or 8.31 percent of the total, will earn the league minimum of $400,000 this season. Unsurprisingly, the Marlins who posted (yet again) the lowest player payroll in the league see 10 players at the league minimum, followed by the A’s (6), Cardinals, Nationals, and Padres (5).

Six clubs did not have a player making the league minimum on Opening Day. They are the Diamondbacks, Rays, Royals, Rockies, Astros, and Dodgers.

Finally, the median salary for the league increased by $150,000 to $1.15 million, a new record high.

Note: Figures don't include termination pay to released players, such as $13.6 million Gary Sheffield is owed by Detroit, so the Tigers' spending is closer to $129 million."

Top 10 Salaries - American League
PlayerSalaryClubDivision
Alex Rodriguez$33,000,000
YankeesAL East
Derek Jeter$21,600,000
YankeesAL East
Mark Teixeira
$20,625,000
YankeesAL East
Magglio Ordonez
$18,971,596
TigersAL Central
Torii Hunter$18,000,000
AngelsAL West
†Ichiro Suzuki
$18,000,000
MarinersAL West
A.J. Burnett$16,500,000
YankeesAL East
C.C. Sabathia$15,285,714
YankeesAL East
Vladimir Guerrero
$15,000,000
AngelsAL West
Mariano Rivera
$15,000,000
YankeesAL East

 

Top 10 Salaries - National League
PlayerSalaryClubDivision
Manny Ramirez
$23,854,494
DodgersNL West
Carlos Beltran
$19,243,683
MetsNL East
Carlos Lee$19,000,000
AstrosNL Central
Johan Santana$18,876,139
MetsNL East
Carlos Zambrano
$18,750,000
CubsNL Central
Barry Zito$18,500,000
GiantsNL West
Alfonso Soriano
$17,000,000CubsNL Central
Aramis Ramirez
$16,900,000
CubsNL Central
Todd Helton$16,600,000
RockiesNL West
† Tim Hudson$15,500,000
BravesNL East

 

From the 1940's through the late 1960's, the average major league salary was $6,000.

In 1975, the average salary was $44,676. By 1980, it had escalated to $143,756. Ten years later, it was $578,930.

While many feel this has ruined baseball, it is really a celebration of fair play in action. After all, we are free in our jobs to pursue employment with another company if we so desire.

There is, however, no doubt that escalating salaries have led to rising ticket prices.

The Fan Cost Index (FCI) measures the cost for a family of four to attend a baseball game. In 2009, the MLB FCI average is $197.17, But the alternative is to let the fat cat owners pocket all of the profit, because they sure wouldn't pass along the savings to us.

Of course, many feel that money, and specifically guaranteed contracts, have made some players lazy and content. It is difficult to relate to the millionaires that play the game today.

So, players like A-Rod have Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith to thank for their riches. I wonder if they ever think about that, or even care.

But there is no denying that it changed the game forever, come to think of it.