Friday, November 4, 2011

1976: The Twins Bill Campbell As Baseball's Original Free Agent Signee Part Two

[Updated, April 14, 2013 - updated with pdf doc, 12/2/13 - 
Part One of this Bill Campbell saga can be found at THIS LINK]

Thirty-five years ago today, November 4, 1976, was a momentous day in baseball history. It was the day that Major League team owners bid on the first group of free agents in the "Reentry Draft."This draft was distinguished from free agency statuses granted to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally cases, as these players were stand-alone "test cases" used by MLBPA head Marvin Miller to create the environment that could be used to justify a structured draft that the Major League teams would have to abide.  I view the list (below), and have to marvel at the top flight pool of future Hall of Famers (Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers) and All-Stars (Bobby Grich, et. al.). Minnesota's Bill "Soupy" Campbell (Classic Twins post on Soupy) and Eric Soderholm* were in that group.

The Sporting News called it a "gold rush," but it was more a wild n' wooly cattle drive of the game's top stars to market, to continue the Wild West motif that was the 1970's. And our very own Bill was numero uno - the FIRST official signing under the new agreement between Marvin Miller, the Players Association, and Major League Baseball. It was a formal end to the system known as "The Reserve Clause." Campbell was the only Twin to have served actively in the Viet Nam war, as a radio operator.

*Great interview with Soderholm at Baseball Alamanac. Sheds light on difficulty of squaring off against Calvin Griffith in contract negotiations. Recalls comment Griffith made to Pedro Ramos during contract squabble: "If you don't like the offer, you can go back to Cuba and cut sugar cane" (Google Books link).

Calvin Griffith
The next clip is  from the Minneapolis Tribune Sports section of the previous day (11/3/76) . Tom Briere's piece allows an insight into the mindset of then-Twins President Calvin Griffith* on the eve of that momentous draft. Cal comes across today as curiously detached, and stand-offish; you have to wonder if he truly understood the weakness of his bargaining power in this new format:

 *Link to my "Meeting Calvin" post. The modern psychology of players, media relations, was getting apparent to the Twins hierarchy that the game was passing Griffith by. They would appoint a 4-man management team that year, ease him out of the team presidency.

...And who would have guessed, with that laissez-faire attitude, this would result?


Of course, the '76 draft proved to be highly damaging to the Twin's chances to seriously contend for the pennant in 1977, when the club fielded an offensive juggernaut (batting stats) that was bereft of quality starting pitching. The 1977 draft would deal another more serious blow to the team's depth of talent , with the defections of Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle. Sans them, the Twins would not factor in a pennant race until another turnover of youth, the Puckett-Hrbek-Gaetti-Viola Twins of the 1980's, would surface and win it all ten years later.

For those of you interested, here are the results of that draft day as described in the Jan. 1, 1977 edition of The Sporting News (again,  Jack Lang's article):

Only two day's earlier, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter had defeated imcumbent President Gerald R. Ford in the general elections. The country was moving on after Watergate, Vietnam, the '60s, and the heartbreak that came with them. Undoubtedly, the old order of power was "gone with the wind," as Ronnie Van Zant* sang - and now, so too was The Reserve Clause in baseball that had bound players to their teams.  The freed bird flew, and the Twins had lost their uber-closer. He would go on to win the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of The Year (again) with Boston in /77, as well as the The Sporting News AL Fireman of The Year, and be selected to the AL All-Star Team.

*link: Van Zant was a big-time baseball fan, an 
enthusiastic ballplayer as a boy in Jacksonville, FLA.

Overall, this episode in team history set an organizational operating template that has lasted into the present day. More often than not, the Twins are still one of the clubs that draft, develop and then lose top-flight players long before their talents have regressed. Exits by Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, and now (possibly) Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan in 2011 are bitter reminders that teams in markets like Minneapolis-St. Paul have a fairly small window of time for contending. 

It's paradoxical that while baseball has changed so much in the last 35 years, one thing is still very much the same - the very democratic and rewarding institution of free agency has also made it very heartbreaking for loyal fans like ours in Minnesota to see the Twin's best and brightest move on to the Bostons and Californias of the world.

As our buddy at the mic, Herbie Carneal,
would say: "So long, everybody." - TT

P.S. - check out this newspaper pdf re: Campbell's 1977 pitching workload

1977 Topps Baseball Card.
Undoubtedly, the airbrushing
over the Twins logo was just
another way Twins fans had 
salt rubbed into their wounds..

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