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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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There were only four games last night and only three of those were scheduled (Angels vs. Cubs was a makeup game). The reason: Major League Baseball keeps trying to make fetch happen with the amateur draft as a TV event and doesn’t want too many games opposite it to draw attention away.

Which is an OK impulse, I suppose. Kudos to MLB for making an effort along those lines. I just don’t think the baseball draft is ever gonna be a fraction of the big deal that the NFL or NBA drafts are no matter what the league does.

People know the top amateur football and basketball players thanks to big time college sports putting them in our living rooms for at least a year and maybe four years before draft day. Even if they don’t know those guys, though, fans have a big incentive to tune in to meet them because an early round NFL or NBA draftee is going to be playing a huge role on their favorite team in a matter of months. The fruits of those drafts are ripe when picked. In baseball, meanwhile, even the best players are unknown to everyone who doesn’t actively seek out amateur coverage at places like Baseball America. What’s more, the majority of guys picked will never make the big leagues and those who do likely won’t be there for several years. That makes for less-than-appointment viewing.

So, again: credit is due Major League Baseball for trying to promote the draft and the young players who might one day be stars. I just don’t think that, as a TV event, it’ll ever bear the kind of fruit they’re hoping it will and I don’t think it’s worth almost going dark on the regular schedule to do it. Just my two cents.

Anyway: here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 8, Angels 1: Jon Lester has had a tough run of it of late but he was on his game yesterday, allowing one run in seven innings. He got a five-run sixth inning in support, fueled in part by Javier Báez, who had three RBI on the day. He also got some defensive help from newest Cub Carlos González. Check out this diving grab:

Maybe the Angels were just tired. To play this makeup game they had to fly from Seattle after Sunday’s game and knew that they had a flight back to L.A. to take on the A’s this evening.

Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1: Walker Buehler was dominant, striking out 11 in eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball. A Corey Seager three-run homer was all the offense the Dodgers got but it was enough. The Dodgers won their sixth straight and they’re on a 111-win pace.

Padres 8, Phillies 2: I saw this billed as a matchup between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Which, fine, I get it, but that’s rather silly. Quick, off the top of your head, can you name the top two free agents from any past offseason, let alone how they fared when their teams subsequently met? Do you remember where you were when David Price and Jason Heyward‘s teams met in 2016. Oh, wait, they didn’t meet. How about Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton in 2013? They actually met! Hamilton went 1-for-5 and Greinke gave up six runs in four innings and didn’t figure in the decision. Not that anyone cares. Again: a matchup of big former free agents is not a thing. It’s even less of a thing than the draft is as a TV event. Especially where, as here, the guys aren’t even in the same division.

Still, it happened, and if you are someone who cares about it, know that Manny Machado got the best of Bryce Harper, hitting a big ol’ grand slam in the sixth inning to make a 4-1 game into an 8-1 game. The Padres scored seven runs in all in that sixth inning. To add injury to insult, the Phillies lost Andrew McCutchen to a sprained left knee. He’ll have an MRI today.

Astros 4, Mariners 2: Houston jumped out with a three-run first inning thanks to a Josh Reddick RBI triple and a Robinson Chirinos homer. That all came off of Cory Gearrin, who had pitched in 296 games in his career before last night, never once as a starter. After that they followed with Wade LeBlanc who has started more in his career than he’s relieved and has only started this season. LeBlanc allowed one run over eight innings. I offer all of that because we tend to focus on the whole opener/bullpenning thing when it works and don’t point out when it doesn’t work all that often. Well, last night it didn’t work.

Which inspires a question: for years, whenever a manager has decided to do something unorthodox with his closer, be it bring him in in tight spots in the eighth, tie games on the road, in non-save situations or, say, go with a closer-by-committee, a certain brand of commentator talks about how bad that is. About how pitchers need to know their roles and how the ninth inning is sacred and special and altogether different and, by extension, so too are closers. I’ve done a pretty good job of cutting my exposure to such commentators out of my life, so I don’t hear them much anymore. For those of you who haven’t done that, how do they square the opener thing with the sacred role of the closer? Or do they just let that bit of dissonance linger like an unresolved figure at the end of a jazz movement?

Inquiring minds want to know!

This Day in Transaction History: Cardinals send two players to Phillies in lieu of Curt Flood

Curt Flood
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As a recurring column idea, Bill will expound upon one interesting transaction that occurred on a particular day in baseball history. It won’t always be the most exciting or most impactful transaction, but always something interesting. Feel free to share which transactions stand out to you in the comments.

. . .

The Cardinals and Phillies agreed to terms on a trade involving outfielder Curt Flood on October 7, 1969. The Cardinals sent Flood, Tim McCarver, Joe Hoerner, and Byron Browne to Philadelphia in exchange for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson. Flood famously refused to report to the Phillies, citing the club’s poor record, stadium disrepair, and racist fans. Flood challenged baseball’s reserve clause, sitting out the 1970 season. On this day in 1970, the Cardinals sent Willie Montañez and Jim Browning to the Phillies in lieu of Flood.

The trade became one of baseball’s most famous and not because of the quality of players involved. Allen, Rojas, Montañez, McCarver, and Hoerner all had lengthy, productive major league careers. Allen, in fact, would go on to win an MVP Award. Browning was really the only player of the bunch that didn’t pan out, as he never exceeded Double-A before his career in baseball was finished in 1975 at the age of 23.

Baseball’s reserve clause tied players to their teams even when their contracts expired. That is why many well-known players in the 1960’s and prior spent their entire careers with one team. Their options were: accept the below-market salaries offered by their teams or sit out the season in protest.

The Major League Baseball Players Association wasn’t created until 1966, but the reserve clause was challenged prior to Flood. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1922, in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to Major League Baseball. The Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits in interstate commerce anticompetitive agreements and attempts to create monopolies. The Supreme Court maintained that the business of baseball did not qualify as interstate commerce as it pertains to the Sherman Antitrust Act. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote, “The business is giving exhibitions of baseball, which are purely state affairs.”

New York Giants outfielder Danny Gardella sued then-commissioner Happy Chandler. Gardella was banned five years because he played in the Mexican League. He claimed that was an unfair use of monopolistic power and said that the 1922 Supreme Court ruling no longer applied given the exponential growth of the sport. Gardella ended up settling out of court.

The reserve clause was more seriously challenged in 1953 when Yankees minor league pitcher George Earl Toolson filed a lawsuit against the Yankees. Toolson spent the 1946-48 seasons with the Triple-A affiliate of the Red Sox in Louisville. He joined the Yankees in ’49, reporting to the Newark Bears. The Bears, however, dissolved, so Toolson was sent to the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate the next year. Toolson refused to report, saying that the reserve clause was a restraint of trade. Because the highly competitive Yankees had complete control over his career, he could not willingly play for another team that might afford him a better chance to realize his dream of pitching in the majors. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reaffirmed the reserve clause.

All of that laid the groundwork for Flood and MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller to challenge the reserve clause when the outfielder refused to report to the Phillies. Flood said in a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn, “After 12 years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen.”

Aside from a very brief stint with the Washington Senators in 1971, this lawsuit ended Flood’s career in baseball. He was a terrific player, making the NL All-star squad three times, winning seven Gold Gloves, and winning two championships with the Cardinals in 1964 and ’67. From 1961-69, he accrued 39.2 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. Only 12 players had more WAR in that span of time.

Sadly, Flood too was unsuccessful in challenging the reserve clause. Judge Irving Ben Cooper of the Southern District of New York denied Flood’s motion for a preliminary injunction, writing, “The game is on higher ground; it behooves every one to keep it there.” He also wrote that “the preponderance of credible proof does not favor elimination of the reserve clause.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also dismissed Flood’s case, citing Federal Baseball Club v. National League and  Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc. as precedents. The Supreme Court upheld the rulings of the lower courts.

However, Flood and the MLBPA had made the most progress against the case to date. Miller finally nullified the reserve clause five years later when pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally argued that the reserve clause didn’t give team owners the right to renew player contracts year after year in perpetuity. The MLBPA filed a grievance on behalf of the two players and the case went before an arbitration panel. Peter Seitz, an arbitrator agreed upon by the two sides, ruled in favor of Messersmith and McNally. Major League Baseball appealed in the district court of Western Missouri, but Judge John Watkins Oliver upheld Seitz’s decision. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld Seitz. In 1976, the era of free agency began, allowing players with six years of service time to become free agents.

Despite Flood making arguably the greatest impact on the game of baseball, he is not in the Hall of Fame. It is not surprising, though the Hall of Fame is owned and operated by private interests, as the Hall has often taken an ownership-sided slant. It was not until very recently that Miller was elected to the Hall of Fame, in fact. In late February, 102 members of Congress sent a letter to the Hall of Fame urging Flood’s election. Thankfully, we don’t need the Hall of Fame to decide for us whether or not Flood made an impact. He most certainly did and every player who has signed a contract as a free agent in the time since has him to thank. Just ask Gerrit Cole.