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  • From Flood to Free Agency: The Messersmith-McNally Arbitration Reconsidered

    On December 23, 1975, a three-member arbitration panel chaired, by neutral arbitrator Peter Seitz, ruled by a two-to-one vote that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dave McNally were “free agents” who could negotiate with any major league club for their future services. That decision overturned professional baseball’s “reserve system” that, in its various manifestations over the years since the origins of baseball as an organized sport in the late nineteenth century, had bound a player for the duration of his career to the first team that signed him to a contract. The outcome of the arbitration turned on the construction of paragraph 10(a) of the Uniform Player’s Contract (Paragraph 10(a)). The provision, which was included in players’ contracts since 1947, permitted a ball club to renew its existing executed contract with a player “for the period of one year on the same terms” in the event a player did not sign a new contract for the upcoming season by a specified deadline. In initiating the arbitration, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), on behalf of Messersmith and McNally, contended that having not signed new contracts for the 1975 season and instead having played out the “renewal” year, the pitchers were entitled to be adjudged “free agents” since the renewed contract was limited to “the period of one year.” The position of the ball clubs was that when Messersmith’s and McNally’s contracts were renewed prior to the 1975 season, the renewal “for the period of one year on the same terms” included renewal of the renewal right itself, thereby effectuating a continuing right to the player’s services for future seasons.