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This Day in Baseball and Rangers History for February 11

* 45 days until the Mar 28, 2024, regular season opener against the Cubs

There's no Rangers-specific news historically related to Feb 11, but today is the 50th anniversary of the first class of players who were entitled to salary arbitration, the first salary arbitration hearing and decision, and the first salary arbitration decision won by a player against the team. There's a background thumbnail on the first 3 CBA's, focusing on how the players and teams got to salary arbitration, and a quick thumbnail on the events around this date in 1974.


February 11, 1974
The First Salary Arbitration Class, Hearing, Decision, and Successful Player

On Feb 11, 1974, in the first salary arbitration ruling in baseball history, Detroit lawyer Harry H. Platt, a labor arbitrator with 30 years of experience, decided in favor of pitcher Dick Woodson, who posted a 10-8 record with a 3.95 ERA for the Twins the prior season. The 27-year-old RHP, who had been the first player to invoke the new salary-arbitration option, is awarded the $29K that he asked for, rather than having to take Minnesota's offer, which was $6K less.

A Thumbnail Stepping Through the CBAs that Led to Salary Arbitration

Marvin Miller, who was an experienced union organizer, was elected as Executive Director of the MLBPA in 1966. Miller had a plan from the outset to reform the reserve clause and generate free agency. Miller recognized that the key to breaking the reserve clause and obtaining free agency involved focusing on the invalidity of the owners' interpretation of the contractual reserve clause, and not on the antitrust exemption. Miller didn't care if ML baseball was exempt from antitrust laws -- it wasn't exempt from labor and contract laws. Outside of ML internal operations, courts had been rejecting the continuous version of the reserve clause as unenforceable under contract law since the late 19th century. Miller simply needed an adjudicatory system internal to labor law to accomplish his approach. And the traditional method in labor law was arbitration. All union activity uses arbitration under labor law, and by the 1960's, labor arbitration was a thoroughly developed segment of American law with a high level of professionalism.

In the first CBA, Miller got several fundamentals in place. As important to the present context, the first CBA provided for a relatively standard internal grievance arbitration procedure, then under the Commissioner's Office, so that the Commissioner was the final appeal, much like the NFL today. The owners naturally saw this as beneficial. The first CBA also incorporated a uniform team contract in the form used at the time, which fixed the specific reserve-clause language so that it couldn't be changed without union agreement, setting up a target for later arbitration. As for the reserve clause, the first CBA provided that the owners and union agreed that they each interpreted the clause differently, and provided for a joint study group to review the reserve clause (which was never really implemented). Most, but not all, changes to ML rules and structures were to be collectively bargained going forward.

The first CBA was finalized on Feb 28, 1968, and effective on April 6, 1968, for 2 years only, but was the first sports CBA of any type.

The second CBA in 1970 was negotiated after the Curt Flood lawsuit had been filed -- the owners were concerned about their antitrust exemption and a bit less contentious than usual. The reserve-clause issues were expressly put on hold by agreement until the outcome of the Curt Flood case, and a stronger provision was adopted providing that each side interpreted the clause differently, preserved its position, and could raise it again after the Curt Flood case was finally decided.

Significant to the present discussion and to any later discussion on the reserve clause and free agency, the arbitration procedure was altered in the second CBA, with an impartial arbitrator handling "nuts and bolts" labor grievances which did not involve "integrity of the game" issues. The Commissioner retained his role as final arbiter, after formal hearing, only in cases involving "integrity" or "public confidence" in the game. The independent arbitrator for all contractual matters provided the internal adjudicatory system that Miller needed for his later attack on the reserve clause. And it also provided a meaningful method for salary arbitration.

The second CBA was finalized on May 23, 1970, and effective for 3 years. The owners, however, refused to fund the pension plan in the manner agreed upon, which led to a player strike from Apr 1-13, 1972, to secure compliance. As a result of the strike, MLB canceled 86 games, and reduced the season to 154-156 games in 1972.

Going into negotiations over the third CBA in late 1972, the owners had just secured their Supreme Court antitrust exemption victory in the Curt Flood case, and were still openly angry over the player's strike earlier in the year, which meant that the owners would be more contentious in negotiations. Just as importantly, the opportunity for an arbitration that would interpret the reserve clause had not yet presented itself to Miller -- that was still 2-3 years away. Miller made the decision to skip further pressure for free agency in 1972, and to focus on veteran salaries and employment stability. The 2 prior CBAs had only addressed minimum salaries. The union's emphasis in this negotiation would be on reasonable increases in salary for veteran players retained under the reserve clause. Instead of the large group of player representatives present in each of the prior 2 CBA negotiations, only Reggie Jackson and Brooks Robinson were involved as player representatives in the negotiations over the third CBA. In the end, there were only minor increases in pension funding, minimum salary and player expense reimbursements, and so forth -- nothing to rile up the owners unduly over pocket-book issues.

Instead, the union concentrated on veteran salary increases under the reserve clause and administrative changes necessary to effect those changes and to stabilize veteran player employment. Salary arbitration was agreed upon, to begin in the 1973-74 off-season, in order to resolve salary disputes between owners and players. Owners saw this as reducing the chance for future player work stoppages or boycotts, without being unduly expensive. In its initial form, players with at least 2 years in the MLs were eligible to submit their salaries for arbitration, with no limit on the number of times a player could do so. The arbitration period was to run from Feb 1-11, when 14 labor-law judges would be available to hear cases. Owners were required to provide the prior year's salary information to arbitrators, but the owners refused to agree to provide the same information to the MLBPA. The MLBPA filed a complaint with the NLRB over the owners' bargaining position, but solved the problem without NLRB resolution, by simply collecting its own clearinghouse of salary information from its members. In order to facilitate the salary arbitration, the deadline for teams to offer unsigned players contracts for the following season was moved from Jan 15 to Dec 20.

In terms of stabilizing veteran player employment, the owners also agreed to the "10-5 Rule", in pretty much the same form as it currently exists -- that a player may not be traded without his consent after 10 years total ML service or 5 years ML service with the same team. In addition, a player with at least 5 years of ML playing time could not be assigned to the MiLs without his consent.

The First Class of Players Submitting Claims for Salary Arbitration in 1974

In 1974, a total of 48 players with at least 2 years of ML experience invoked the new arbitration procedure established to settle contract salary differences. As per the CBA, hearings began on Feb 1. An arbitration decision was based on the salaries of similar players with the same amount of experience, following a hearing in which both the team and the player (or his representative) had a chance to present their case and respond to the other side's arguments concerning how the player at issue compared to other players. The arbitrator decided whether the figure submitted by the club in its tender or the figure submitted by the player in invoking arbitration, was more appropriate, but could make no adjustment to those amounts by way of resolution. Unsigned players who invoked arbitration were paid at the rate of club's offer until their cases were decided or settled. Players who won an arbitration decision received back pay with interest for that period. As noted at the top of this discussion, the first such arbitration award was issued on Feb 11, 1974, with pitcher Dick Woodson (seeking a contract for $29K) prevailing on his claim against the Twins (offering $23K). In 1974, the owners won 16 decisions, and the players won 13, the remainder being withdrawn by agreement prior to decision.

With later modifications, this procedure has generally proved to be satisfactory to both the owners and the players for dealing with salary disputes under the remaining aspects of the reserve clause, although there has been criticism from baseball players and media, particularly over valuation. At present, any player with 3 years of ML service and less than 6 years qualifies for salary arbitration, along with the top 22% of players with 2+ years of service (super-2). These changes and other details of the process were introduced in the 1976, 1985, 1997, 2007, 2012 and 2022 CBAs. Only a small minority of arbitration filings proceed to a hearing and decision. Through 2015, players had won 42.34%, and teams had won 57.66%, of cases that were decided, although there are result differences for subcategories of pitchers and different position players. Most cases are settled before they reach decision. Salary arbitration has become an accepted part of baseball business.

This Day in Baseball History -- February 11th (Nat'l Pastime)
February 11th (BR Bullpen)
Navneet Vishwanathan, File and Trial: Valuation and Hearings in Arbitration (SABR 2019)
Maury Brown, Who's Winning The MLB Salary Arbitration Game? (Forbes 2015)
Edward Silverman, Dick Woodson's Revenge: Salary Arbitration (Pepperdine 2013 PDF)
Salary arbitration (BR Bullpen)
CBA History (Cot's)
JJ Cooper, Details from the New Collective Bargaining Agreement (BB America 2023)
CBA -- Basic Agreement 2022-2026 (MLBPA PDF)