2019 AL Cy Young Award runner-up Gerrit Cole finalized a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees on Wednesday, introducing himself with agent Scott Boras and the Yankees brass at a press conference. These press conferences are typically basic: the player says how excited he is for the opportunity, the brass express optimism for the future.
Every player owes a debt of gratitude to Curt Flood, who challenged the reserve clause and brought on the advent of free agency in 1975. Similarly, every player owes a debt of gratitude to Marvin Miller, the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Miller worked with flood to challenge the reserve clause and also helped to negotiate higher salaries, benefits, and other protections for players. While most unions in the U.S. have been neutered over the last four decades, the MLBPA remains one of the most powerful unions in the nation, thanks in large part to the foundation Miller laid.
Cole is well aware of baseball’s labor history, so he made a point to thank both Miller and Flood in Wednesday’s press conference. Per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, Cole said of Flood, “I want everybody to know, because challenging the reserve clause was one of the first stepping stones to ultimately the system we have today, which I believe brings out the most competitive, you know, genuine competitiveness, that we have in baseball.”
Cole added, “There’s many different stories to be told by every baseball season. And the best stories are always told because there’s competitiveness and Curt was instrumental in getting the ball rolling. And, you know, it’s so fitting that the free agency season that has started this year already coincides with Marvin getting into the Hall of Fame, I just think it’s so important that players know the other sacrifices that players made in order to keep the integrity of the game where it is.”
Cole said his labor history education began when he was a teammate of former catcher John Buck in 2013. Buck would call young players to the front of the bus and ask, “Who’s Curt Flood? Tell me about Curt Flood! Why is he important?” Cole expressed hope that other players can have a similar conversation about Flood like he had with Buck.
If players choose to go down the thanking-people route during their introductory press conferences, it should become standard to thank Flood and Miller. Without those two, players would still have their fates controlled and salaries suppressed by their teams. And they should realize that minor league players deserve the same protections they currently enjoy.