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BASEBALL'S NEW ERA
The agreement between major league players and owners that was announced last week formally buried the reserve clause, which has been an integral part of baseball for more than 50 years. In its place are provisions governing the rights of players who want to leave their clubs, as well as the rights of the club owners to hold on to players for a specified time and to be compensated for their loss when they leave.
Boiled down, the new rules say that a player cannot become a free agent until he has completed six years in the majors, and that a club losing such a player will be given a first- or second-round draft choice from the club signing him. Details, often quite complex, cover ramifications of the agreement—how many clubs a free agent may negotiate with, how many free agents a club can sign, when a player can demand a trade or veto a trade, etc.
What comes as a surprise is that in the future an eligible player does not have to play out an option year to become a free agent; he is free as soon as his contract expires. Even more startling is the revelation that all players now under contract—not just those who are currently unsigned—have the right to play out their options under the Andy Messersmith system and become free agents. In other words, no player comes under the new agreement until he signs a new contract.
Despite this apparent freedom, neither the owners nor the players feel that many will elect to take the free-agent route, either now or in the future. Of the 600 or so men on big-league rosters, only 39 are playing out their options. Provisions limiting the number of free agents any one club can sign should assuage fears that the best players will flow to certain teams. Fred Patek, Kansas City's All-Star shortstop, says, "There won't be many guys jumping around. Too many are happy where they are. As long as they can get their maximum value, most will stay."
The owners evidently agree. If they don't, they are taking an awfully big risk.
DOWN TO BASICS