Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, November 25, 2021

no longer reserved
Today is November 25th. Depending on your outlook, professional sports changed for the better, or for the worst, 37 years ago when All-Star centerfielder Curt Flood told MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller he would sue Major League Baseball, with the intent to challenge and eliminate the reserve clause, the effect of which would allow players to become free agents.

Early on, Flood’s quest was obscured by his apparently rarified position in the sport:

Most sportswriters at the time attacked his assertion that the reserve clause made him feel like a slave. When Howard Cosell asked him how someone earning $90,000 a year, one of the top salaries in the game at the time, could feel like a slave, he responded, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.”

Which is the heart of it. Even if you’re being compensated handsomely, it doesn’t change the inequity of the structure. These days, it’s a question of principle versus reality: It’s hard to argue that a guy (in any sport) making $15 million a year is being exploited; but considering that, often, that same player could be making even more if he were truly free to market his services to the highest bidder.

That’s why the title of the new Flood biography, “A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports” is so apt when recounting the history. In turn, it’s just as fitting when describing the current pressures in professional athletics. So we have William C. Rhoden’s “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete”. Again, exploitation doesn’t jibe with the pricetag.

In honor of Flood’s undertaking — which he fell short of despite going all the way to the Supreme Court, but shortly led to success — I present here my own eight-year-old essay on the impact, not only in baseball and other sports but on American society. The intellectual property rights are owned by the St. Petersburg Times; but since they’re not doing anything with it currently, I’m sure they won’t mind my reproduction here. Besides, they owe me for misspelling my name in print — while I was on their payroll, yet!

Independence Days
Copyright Times Publishing Co., August 14, 2021

Feb. 4, 1976, is not a particularly memorable date for most people. But it should be: It changed the course of American life, as we knew it, forever.

Yes, I know that sounds overblown. But it’s true. That date marked the official endorsement of free agency in major-league baseball. And, let’s face it, things never have been the same.

There was a time when being a free agent was the last thing someone with professional sports ambitions wanted. An athlete then wasn’t a free agent by choice; he was a free agent because no one wanted him. No team figured his talent was worth the investment of one Standard Player’s Contract, for the minimum one-year salary.

So when Jim “Catfish” Hunter, the first de facto free agent in major-league baseball, found out in 1974 that his services were his - and his alone - to offer to any team, his thoughts weren’t about how much money he would make or where he wanted to play.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a job. I got to find me a job,’ ” Hunter recalled years later.

Some reaction, huh? Instead of dreaming about the size of his signing bonus or stipulating a no-trade clause in his next contract, Hunter was worried about where his next paycheck would come from. It ended up coming from the Yankees, but it wasn’t all about the money. Hunter turned down an offer from San Diego that was $500,000 richer, and before that he even thought about staying with his original team, the Oakland Athletics.

Hunter’s concerns were natural for the mind-set of America in 1974. Job security was a central feature of everyday life. More than just economic security, a job meant an identity for the individual, more so than it does today. In exchange for hard work and loyalty to a company, a worker got a steady income, chances for advancement, a social network among co-workers and a retirement fund.

The alternatives? Going into business for yourself, if you could afford to, and taking the attendant risks. Or hopping from one job to another, offering services for a set amount of time before starting over with another outfit and not building a foundation for the future - in other words, being a free agent.

Contrast that with the images free agent conjures up today. When Mark McGwire or David Cone files for free agency, it’s not because he no longer is able to play or can’t find a job. It’s because he no longer is obligated to remain with a team and (depending on recent performance) stands to substantially increase his income by shopping his services.

The revolutionary alteration in a system that controlled a player’s destiny from cradle to grave for nearly a century didn’t happen overnight. It started in 1970 when Curt Flood decided he should have at least some say in where and for whom he played. He challenged the reserve clause, which gave a big-league team all rights to a player for as long as it wanted him.

As a result, Flood, one of the best defensive centerfielders of all time, basically committed career suicide. He also lost his case after taking it to the Supreme Court. (And he did it alone, it should be noted; no other player joined him.)

Flood paved the way for many who followed. Hunter wriggled free because of a technicality: An arbitrator ruled that A’s owner Charles Finley breached a part of his contract and therefore made its provisions invalid. The next year, independent arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that players Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were free agents after both played the 1975 season without having signed their contracts, therefore freeing them from further obligations to their teams.

On Feb. 4, 1976, federal Judge John W. Oliver upheld Seitz’s decision, ending the old system and opening the door for free agency.

The Messersmith-McNally decision dismantled the one key legal instrument by which the owners controlled player movement and, more important, player salaries. Without it, the owners had to recognize the right of players to free agency, and they conceded it with the institution of a collective bargaining agreement in 1976.

Slowly but surely, basketball, football and hockey players demanded the same right and got it. As a result, salaries have skyrocketed.

But perhaps the greatest impact of free agency has happened outside of professional sports and is being felt only now. For the generation that’s grown up with free agency, it’s a natural state. People in their 20s who are entering the work force are comfortable with trading on their skills and knowledge to advance in life, rather than committing to one organization that may or may not reciprocate that commitment.

Exaggeration? With more people leaving the traditional work force to start home-based businesses, the concept of free agency takes another step: using your abilities for yourself. A recent issue of the business magazine Fast Company proclaimed in a cover story the creation of a “Free Agent Nation,” noting that about 25-million people, or 16 percent of the work force, basically work independently of a company.

It’s been argued that baseball no longer is America’s pastime and that the game is too slow and old-fashioned to keep up with the times. But 20-plus years ago, it proved to be a trendsetter.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 08:40 PM
Category: Baseball, History, Society
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burning turkey
This would be my tenth day of chugging Enviga. Under neutral conditions, one might assume that the calorie-burning properties of the drink would start to manifest themselves via the bathroom scale.

But… Along comes Thanksgiving. The stuff-your-face-fest surely skews that off, right? Even with the three cans per day flowing through my system, you gotta figure holiday feast would overload the caloric balance, and result in weight gain.

You’d think that, but it ain’t so. As of tonight, I’ve lost about three or four pounds since starting this Enviga experiment.

Here’s the thing, though: This isn’t the first time I’ve come through Thanksgiving with a net weight loss. For whatever reason, I go against the grain when it comes to turkey-day gorging. It’s not like I fast for the holiday — I eat my share, and don’t do any more exercise than usual. But somehow, I elude the fat-packing, and usually come out of it with a mild drop in poundage. Since this is par for my course, I can’t attribute it to Enviga.

So, to sum up: Enviga hasn’t had a noticable effect on me yet. If anything, Thanksgiving didn’t make a dent, one way or another (I didn’t even notice any caffeine reaction to the sleep-inducement that turkey is supposed to have). I’ll keep going with the intake — eventually I’ll determine a time limit — and see what happens long-term.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 08:10 PM
Category: Food, Science
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Japan is renowned as a highly rigid, structured society. How do you deal with that if you don’t fit the acceptable mold?

A couple of recent media observations point to markedly divergent reactions, breaking along gender lines:

- Michael Zielenziger’s “Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation” examines the hikikomori phenomenon, where men in their 20s and 30s retreat from societal expectations by becoming noncommunicative shutins:

Across Japan, more than one million men and boys like Jun and Hiro and Kenji have chosen to withdraw completely from society. These recluses hide in their homes for months or years at a time, refusing to leave the protective walls of their bedrooms. They are as frightened as small children abandoned in a dark forest. Some spend their days playing video games. A few-an estimated 10 percent-surf the Internet. Many just pace, read books, or drink beer and shochu, a Japanese form of vodka. Others do nothing for weeks at a time. Unable to work, attend school, or interact with outsiders, they cannot latch onto the well-oiled conveyor belt that carries young boys from preschool through college, then deposits them directly into the workplace-a system that makes Japan seem orderly and purposeful to outsiders, even as it has begun to break down.

These young men withdraw in the most extreme sense. This is their mode of escape from Japan’s high-pressure rat race.

- Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Sheridan Prasso wrote last month about the trend among young Japanese women to “escape” to New York City for months at a time, in order to come into their own minus the traditional restrictiveness they face back home:

In the East Village on any given weekend night, throngs of such Japanese crowd the restaurants known as izakaya that have sprung up on and around St. Marks Place, in an enclave sometimes called Little Tokyo. With red paper lanterns and cacophonous dins, the restaurants serve delectables like raw liver sashimi and grilled rice balls, to tables of expatriates known in Japan as “freeters” (a combination of free and the German word for worker, arbeiter), or “NEETs” (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

As a Japanese version of slackers, such young people are often derided at home as selfish for drifting through part-time jobs or trying to develop talents in the arts — photography, music, painting, dance — rather than contributing to society by joining a corporation or marrying and having babies. The pressure can be intense.

Many escape to New York, staying from three months to three years. “In New York they feel they don’t get any pressure, that New York gives them freedom,” said the Japanese-born owner of the Sunrise Mart, a Japanese market in Little Tokyo.

The influx is at least a decade old, but unlike in the mid-1990’s when men and women freeters came in equal numbers, now it is largely a female wave — a result of the recovering economy in Japan that has made it slightly easier for young men to find corporate jobs upon graduation.

So New York is the safety valve for Japanese women who feel pressure to conform back home.

It’s easy to generalize all this: When faced with social/cultural heat, Japanese men turn inward (both literally and figuratively), while Japanese women strike outward (both literally and figuratively). This applies just to the relative minority who are non-conformists; still, it’s an interesting contrast in how the gender reactions are so much opposite from each other.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 07:52 PM
Category: Publishing, Society
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