Because of Kuhn's delay in approving the sale, Rudi and Fingers engaged only in pre-game workouts the following night, discreetly departing the clubhouse before the first pitch. Blue, scheduled to join the Yankees in Chicago, remained in the Bay Area awaiting the outcome of the hearing. A's Manager Chuck Tanner, his available talent depleted by the historic transaction, rose loyally to Finley's defense. "He did the right thing," said Tanner, seated under a religious painting on which was emblazoned a heartening message: There can be no rainbow without a cloud and a storm. "The thing Mr. Finley did will change the game around," Tanner said. "It'll make the other owners realize there's a situation here [the reserve clause dilemma] that has to be rectified now. I honestly believe there never will be another major league player sold for a million dollars."
Finley, of course, had always maintained an adversary relationship with his players; indeed, it was part of the team's mystique. But his best pitcher, Catfish Hunter, caught him in a contract violation before the 1975 season, was declared a free agent by an arbitrator and auctioned himself off to the Yankees for nearly $3 million. Then Los Angeles Dodger Pitcher Andy Messersmith effectively toppled the game's precious reserve system by playing out his option year and, like Hunter before him, achieving emancipation. He eventually sold himself to the Atlanta Braves for more than a million dollars.
The Messersmith case forced the owners into negotiations with Miller over revisions in the reserve system, which once had the effect of binding a player to a club for life. Predictably, the negotiations hit a snag that led to a delay of spring training, and in fact, the matter has not yet been resolved. The Messersmith experience also inspired a number of players to opt for the open market and refuse to sign 1976 contracts.
Finley, in particular, had difficulty signing his players. By the end of spring training, eight of his best were playing without contracts. Finley acted quickly, trading the tremendously popular Jackson and 18-game winner Holtzman. He insists he also tried to trade Rudi, Fingers and Blue but could not obtain quality personnel in exchange.
Finley was ensconced in his Chicago office Friday afternoon when Kuhn announced his decision. Kuhn could not persuade himself, he said, that "the spectacle of the Yankees and the Red Sox buying contracts of star players in the prime of their careers for cash sums totalling $3.5 million is anything but devastating to baseball's reputation for integrity and to public confidence in the game, even though I can well understand that their motive is a good-faith effort to strengthen their clubs. If such transactions now and in the future were permitted, the door would be opened wide to the buying of success by the more affluent clubs, public suspicion would be aroused, traditional and sound methods of player development and acquisition would be undermined and our efforts to preserve competitive balance would be greatly impaired. I cannot help but conclude that I would be remiss in exercising my powers as commissioner pursuant to the Major League Agreement and Major League Rule 12 if I did not act now to disapprove these assignments."
Kuhn added, "If, as contended by the participants, the commissioner lacks the power to prevent a development so harmful to baseball as this, then our system of self-regulation for the good of the game and the public is a mirage."
Whap! Back went Rudi, Fingers and Blue to the Oakland clubhouse. And then off went Finley's mouth; he threatened that he would go to Federal Court in San Francisco in search of an injunction to stop Kuhn from stopping him. The commissioner had behaved, said Charlie, with typical restraint, "like the village idiot." In Finley's defense, it must be pointed out that he now stands to lose both the $3.5 million and his three ballplayers at the end of the season. Marvin Miller said, "The commissioner has single-handedly plunged baseball into the biggest mess it has ever seen. I consider it sheer insanity. It's raised the potential for litigation which would last for years. He is asserting a right to end all club owners' rights with regard to all transactions. Whenever there's a trade made, he can decide that one team did not get enough value and veto that deal."
Yankee Manager Billy Martin was naturally enraged. The same day he thought he had obtained Blue, the Yankees also acquired the unsigned Holtzman in a 10-player deal with Baltimore. Martin was gleefully anticipating the use of the same starting rotation that took the A's to their multiple championships: Hunter, Holtzman and Blue. "I can believe Watergate," Martin said, "but I can't believe that we in baseball, who are so intelligent, would do this."
Kuhn took as his authority an article of the Major League Agreement that was written in 1921, shortly after the ascendancy of the dictatorial Kenesaw Mountain Landis to the game's highest office. This empowers the commissioner to take any steps he deems necessary to protect the best interests and the "honor" of baseball. For his part, Finley contends that Kuhn has operated in restraint of trade. Martin, who insisted that two National League owners, Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers and M. Donald Grant of the Mets, helped influence Kuhn's decision, noted that "Steinbrenner has tremendous attorneys and he'll go after Kuhn," but Boston Owner Tom Yawkey adopted a pacifist posture.
"I don't know what the hell the commissioner is basing his ruling on," Yawkey said, "but I will sue nobody. I hate lawsuits. There are too many lawsuits in sports already. I've had my stomach full of them, and I think the public has had enough, too." Later, Martin attempted to inject some levity into the situation. Asked who would replace Blue in his pitching rotation, Martin cracked, "I'm pitching Bowie tomorrow. I've got to find out if he's thrown lately. Is he righthanded or lefthanded? Or does he know?"