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Labor Timeline
1922: Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes offers the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court stating that Major League Baseball is exempt from antitrust laws, thus validating the "reserve clause" in the basic player contract. The reserve clause, giving owners the ability to renew each contract for the following season once it is signed, is believed to bind that player in perpetuity to his host club.
1954: The Major League Baseball Players Association is recognized as a bargaining unit. Wisconsin Judge Robert Cannon is the part-time executive director.
1965: Marvin Miller, a veteran of the steelworker labor wars in Pittsburgh, is elected first full-time executive director of the union.
1968: The first Basic Agreement between owners and players is signed for two seasons. It includes a raise in minimum salary from $7,000 to $10,000, plus an increase in per diem. It's the first formal structure in owner-player labor relations and includes written procedures for the arbitration of player grievances before the Commissioner. Bowie Kuhn replaces William Eckert as Commissioner of baseball.
1969: Curt Flood is traded by Cardinals to the Phillies, refuses the trade and sues MLB in court regarding the validity of the antitrust exemption and reserve clause. The union ultimately backs him and helps fund the suit.
1970: The next Basic Agreement switches the owner-player grievance system to a three-member arbitration panel with a neutral chairman selected jointly by the players and owners. Discussion about the reserve clause is set aside until after the Flood suit is decided.
1972: The first of eight work stoppages over the next 22 years, each one occurring as collective bargaining breaks down before the signing of a new Basic Agreement. This one lasts 14 days, from April 1-12, and causes the loss of 86 games. The core of the issue is management's contribution to the players' pension fund. Owners eventually agree to add an additional $500,000 to the fund. Players forfeit payment for games missed during the strike, but gain the right to salary arbitration. Later that year, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Holmes decision, handing Flood a loss in court, but opening the way for the union to challenge the reserve system.
1974: Playing for the Oakland A's, Catfish Hunter takes Charlie Finley to arbitration when Finley refuses to make statutory payments to Hunter's life insurance annuity. Arbitrator Peter Seitz declares the contract void, making Hunter the first free agent. Hunter signs with the New York Yankees after a long bidding war for $3.75 million.
1975: Pitchers Andy Messersmith, a member of the Dodgers, and Dave McNally, finishing his career with Montreal, refuse to sign their one-year contracts and the union grieves the reserve clause process. Seitz decides that the reserve clause creates only a one-year option, not the perpetual right to renew as the owners claim. When a player fails to sign the contract, he becomes a free agent the following season. A federal judge later finds in favor of Seitz's decision. Both players became free agents and the reserve clause is deemed null and void for all time.
1976: The owners lock out the players for 17 days of Spring Training, from March 1-17. Kuhn, using his best-interest powers, orders the camps reopened. The parties finally reach accord on a new four-year Basic Agreement in midsummer. Under it, all players with at least six years' experience can become free agents when their contracts expire. The players accept two additional limitations: A player can only file for free agency once every five years and can negotiate with no more than 12 teams aside from his former club. The 12 teams are determined by an annual draft of negotiating rights. Clubs start divesting themselves of top-ranked players, whom they feel won't re-sign in 1977, the first season under the new rules. For example, Finley trades Reggie Jackson to the Baltimore Orioles and the Mets send Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. Kuhn, again using his best interest powers, blocks Finley's multimillion sales of Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees.
1977: In the first wave of free agency, the average salary jumps from $51,501 in 1976 to $143,756 in 1980.
1980: The players strike for the last eight days of Spring Training when the owners seek dramatic changes in the free agency system. In the end, both sides sign a new four-year Basic Agreement, but agree to carry the free agency issue over to 1981 as the owners continue to study it. If agreement can't be reached on a compensation formula for lost free agents by February 1981, the owners have the right to implement their own proposal. But if they do, the players have the right to strike.
1981: The first major strike in the sport's history lasts 50 days, from June 12 to July 31, causes the loss of 712 games and leads to the only split-season standings in the history of MLB and a three-tiered playoff system that won't be revived again until 1995. In the end, the owners get compensation for free agents, but the convoluted concept only survives the length of the current agreement, which is extended through the 1984 season.
1982: Ken Moffett, the deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and a major factor in settling the 1981 strike, replaces Miller, who retires as executive director.
1983: The players fire Moffett and hire Don Fehr, a member of Miller's support staff, as executive director.
1984: Peter Ueberroth replaces Kuhn as Commissioner.
1985: The players strike over differences in the salary arbitration system, but this time it only lasts two days -- Aug. 6-7. All the lost games are rescheduled. At Ueberroth's behest, the owners ultimately drop their free agent compensation system and the players agree to raise the arbitration eligibility level from two seasons to three seasons. The new agreement would last four seasons.
1989: National League president Bart Giamatti replaces Ueberroth as Commissioner. Shortly after Giamatti bans Pete Rose for betting on baseball, he dies of a heart attack and is replaced by Fay Vincent, his Deputy Commissioner.
1990: Owners are found by arbitrators to have conspired against signing free agents following the 1985-87 seasons and settle those cases for $280 million. Against that backdrop, the owners are seeking in the new Basic Agreement the end of salary arbitration and the implementation of a wage scale for all players not eligible for free agency. To get there, the owners lock out the players for the first 32 days of Spring Training. Vincent injects himself in the negotiations and the owners drop all their demands, even agreeing to reinstate a 17-percent superclass of arbitration eligible players with two plus seasons of eligibility.
1992: Vincent is let go and replaced on an interim basis as Commissioner by Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig. Selig would remain interim Commissioner for nearly six years.
1993: Seeking significant revenue sharing among themselves and a change again in the free agency system, the owners and players agree to carry negotiations into the 1994 season. The owners claim many of the teams are losing money under the current system and a new one has to take its place.
1994: The owners don’t make a significant proposal until midseason, and the players set a strike date for Aug. 12. The deal they propose places a cap on salaries of 50 percent of revenues. The players make 58 percent and balk. After the players walk out, all meaningful negotiations come to a halt. On Sept. 14, Selig makes the announcement that the remainder of the season, the playoffs and World Series have been canceled.
1995: The owners try to implement work conditions and almost every team opens camp with replacement players. The union files a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board and ultimately a federal judge rules in its favor and issues an injunction against the owners. The owners have no choice except to allow the players to continue to work under the auspices of the 1990 Basic Agreement until a new one is negotiated. The players call off the strike and the season opens on April 26. The strike lasts 938 days and costs 232 regular-season games.
1998: The two sides take almost two years to negotiate a new Basic Agreement. By the time it's done, it includes the first phases of revenue sharing and a luxury tax to put a drag on salaries. Free agency and salary arbitration remain untouched and there is no salary cap. On July 2, Selig is rewarded and is named full-time Commissioner. The new Basic Agreement will last through the 2001 season.
2000: MLB commissions a Blue Ribbon Panel to analyze the economics of the sport. The report, issued near midseason, states that from 1995-99, the 30 MLB teams suffered a combined operating loss of over $1 billion and that the Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies were the only three teams to turn a profit during that period.
2001: Just after the World Series ends with the Arizona Diamondbacks defeating the Yankees in seven thrilling games, the owners vote to contract two teams -- the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins. The union files a grievance stating that the loss of 80 Major League roster positions must be collectively bargained.
2002: Court decisions in Minnesota bind the Twins to their Metrodome lease for the season. On Feb. 15, the owners purchase the Expos for $120 million in a three-way swap of teams that also has the Florida Marlins and Red Sox changing hands. MLB announces later in the year that a relocation committee will be formed to move the Expos and that the team will play a portion of its 2003 home season in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, amid the backdrop of pressure from Congress to institute random drug testing for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, collective bargaining begins. The union sets a strike date for Aug. 30 and talks go right down to the wire. The new four-year agreement includes increased revenue sharing, a tougher competitive balance tax and survey drug testing in 2003 to determine the extent of the problem. Contraction, though part of the agreement, is virtually taken off the table. Again, free agency and salary arbitration remain untouched. It is the first time since 1972 that a new Basic Agreement has been negotiated without a work stoppage.
2003: Survey testing reveals that 5-to-7 percent of all players on Major League Baseball's 40-man rosters use performance-enhancing drugs, thus kicking in the penalty portion of the program for 2004.
2004: The union and owners agree on the concept of a world baseball cup to be played among baseball-playing countries with the first tournament slated for 2005 and every four years after that. At the end of the season, MLB announces that the Expos will move to Washington, D.C., in time for the 2005 season. With an ownership search about to begin, the team ultimately remains under MLB control for a fourth consecutive season. MLB comes under increased scrutiny from Congress because the penalty portion of its joint drug program allows a player to seek treatment on the first offense and names are not released to the public. In December, the union's executive board authorizes its leadership to negotiate tougher terms of the current drug agreement.
2005: What is ultimately named the World Baseball Classic is postponed for a year so that Japanese professional baseball can get through economic problems and differences with their own union. In January, the owners vote unanimously to accept the tougher drug agreement negotiated with the players. The new agreement calls for a 10-day suspension for a first offense with the release of the player's name to the public. Only 12 MLB players are so sanctioned during the season, including Rafael Palmeiro of the Orioles. But Congress is not mollified. On March 17, the House Reform Committee subpoenas Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, and Sammy Sosa, plus Selig, Fehr, then-MLB vice president Sandy Alderson and Padres general manager Kevin Towers. At the 11-hour hearing that is sometimes contentious, Congressmen again tell MLB and union officials to beef up their drug program or they will enact legislation. Subsequently, Selig sends a letter to Fehr calling for a "three strikes and you're out" punitive approach and a 50-game suspension for the first offense. By the end of year, the union and owners have agreed to implement that change in the policy.
2006: The inaugural World Baseball Classic is played from March 3-20 and is a marvel, with Japan defeating Cuba to win the first title. Through most of the season, not one player on the 40-man roster of any Major League club tests positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The season begins with MLB revenue heading toward $6 billion a year and player salaries at an average of $2.8 million, both records. Collective bargaining opens for a new Basic Agreement and for the first time there are no issues of outward contention. The sessions are done in private and are being conducted throughout the regular season. The deadline for a new agreement is Dec. 19.
Sources:;; USA; Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia; The Associated Press.