In Major League Baseball history, there may not be a more seminal point in its history as the period in which the players organized themselves as a union, and started chipping away at the control that the owners had had over them since the dawn of professional baseball.
The movement and actions of the players seemed to mirror the events of the day in the United States. There was the Civil Rights movement. Vietnam. Watergate. Nixon’s resignation. The Watts riots. The counterculture movement. Ronald Reagan’s ascension... All within the period from the early ‘60s well into the ‘70s when the players took on the establishment – ergo, the owners and the commissioners of the day. "Change" seemed to typify history during this time in America, and baseball was no different.
The Biz of Baseball has been extremely fortunate to interview several key figures that were in places of power during that time. Former executive director of the Players Association Marvin Miller. Former commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Fay Vincent. Former GM, and executive vice-president of the Dodgers, Angels, and Padres Buzzie Bavasi, as well as Tal Smith, who was one of the first to pioneer the use of statistical analysis on management’s side of the table when free agency occurred in the mid-‘70s. Smith is current the President of Baseball Operations for the Houston Astros.
Now, The Biz of Baseball adds one other interview – one that is our most inclusive and expansive to date – with the former general counsel for the MLBPA and a man that would become one of the very first “super agents”, Dick Moss.
Moss is legendary in the sense that he witnessed every work stoppage in MLB – all eight of them. He was the general counsel when Curt Flood fought for the right to be a free agent during MLB’s reserve list period. He represented the much maligned Alex Johnson in arbitration, arguing that mental illness should be treated the same as a physical illness in Major League Baseball. He was a player agent for Nolan Ryan and Fernando Valenzuela, negotiating the first million dollar a year contract for Ryan, and the first million dollar salary arbitration case in 1983 for Valenzuela. And, he was able to argue before an arbitor to get Steve Howe reinstated in baseball after being banned from baseball for life due to drug abuse.
Moss has been there for all of this… and more.
Given Moss’ place in history, and the numerous key events that he has been a part of, this interview has been broken into two parts. The interview touches on all the points mentioned above in Part I and much, much more.
Part II of this interview will be coming very shortly. We hope you enjoy. – Maury Brown
Maury Brown for The Biz of Baseball: John Helyar portrayed you as a “rabid Pirates fan” in his seminal book, Lords of the Realm, as did Marvin Miller in his autobiography, A Whole Different Ballgame. What’s your most vivid Forbes Field memory?
Dick Moss: That’s easy. The seventh game of the 1960 World Series.
Bizball: How did Miller approach you about leaving the Steelworkers Union and joining him as general council at the beginning of the Players Association as we know it today?
Moss: Well, Marvin was an old friend of mine. We worked together at the Steelworkers Union. When he was approached by the players regarding the Player’s Association, he asked me to advise him, and I sort of represented him during that whole process. At the end of it, he asked me to join it as general counsel.
Bizball: Did your love of the Pirates, and baseball in particular play a pivotal role in accepting the position with Miller? Making the jump to the Players Association was a pretty big career gamble, wasn’t it?
Moss: Not really. It was an interesting idea. My mother thought it was a gamble. She didn’t think it was a good job, you know. She thought, “You have a job, but you should have a different job. Something where you are not dealing with baseball players.” I ignored her advice and took the job anyway. I had just been promoted to assistant general counsel so there were other lawyers at the Steelworkers Union.
Some people think it would have been a gamble, but it really wasn’t.
Bizball: Can you recall what the first meetings between you and Miller were about once you were installed as general council?
Moss: Well, the first thing that was to be done after Marvin was retained was the negotiations regarding the Pension Agreement. In December, 1966, there was a Board meeting to be held in Pittsburgh. Marvin invited me to that meeting and introduced me to the players’ representatives at that time, as the new general counsel.
Bizball: For those that may not understand the differences between how the relationship between management and labor were in early years of the Players Association to how they are today, can you go over how some of the initial disputes, such as management’s issues over the players pension plan in 1966?
Moss: There was a general issue that they were accepting it as a labor union – accepting the legitimacy of it. It was as if they were treating it as if we were meddlers – outsiders in the business of baseball. That’s not right.
I remember in one of the early meetings, Joe Cronin, who was then the President of the American League, became very upset when we were talking about scheduling problems. Joe said, “This is none of the players’ business. This is our business.” And he got up and walked out of the meeting. It was little things like that that would happen.
Bizball: If there was a word to describe what management probably thought of Miller and you when it was clear you would not be simply “going along for the ride”, what do you think it was?
Moss: Well, Marvin tells the story about his first involvement when he went to the All-Star Game in 1966 – I think it was with Joe Cronin again. It was just after it was announced that he was the new Executive Director of the Players’ Association. And Joe said to him, “Marvin there’s something you’ve got to remember. Players come and go, but the owners are there forever.”
Bizball: We could talk on just the early days of the PA for one interview alone, but in the meantime, let me go through out some names and if you could, give me some thoughts or recollections on any events that were related to them during that time:
Bizball: Bowie Kuhn
Moss: Bowie was not involved in the very beginning. The National League counsel had Louis Carroll who was the Senior Partner in Louis’ firm; Bowie was more of a junior partner. When it came to negotiations it was always Carroll who was on the negotiating committee. Bowie came along later.
When he became the commissioner, Bowie adopted a philosophy that he was the commissioner of everybody in baseball, including the players. Therefore, he was sort of "neutral." Again, Marvin in his book, talked about a time that we were having a meeting with John Gaherin in John’s office and we cut Bowie out of the rear door because he had the pretense that he wasn’t involved in management.
Bowie was sort of an interesting character. He had the views and the roles of the commissioner and then he tried to convince us that he was going to be neutral, even though he was hired by the owners. Just sort of a ridiculous concept.
Bizball: John Gaherin
Moss: John was a professional negotiator/management guy. He always acted professional. I like John. He carried about his orders as best he could. Many times what he wanted people to do was not followed. I think honestly, he will go down as a professional and as an accomplished one, at that.
Bizball: Walter O’Malley
Moss: Well, Walter O’Malley is an especially interesting man. I am so appalled that both Walter O’Malley and Marvin Miller are not in the Hall of Fame.
O’Malley – for as long as Kuhn was there – O’Malley ran baseball. He was the most powerful force in baseball. There were many who used to call him the crocodile. What they were referring to was that he would take positions on various things and it would be like if you were going in one direction and then he went in another direction and then he went in another direction until he ended up where he wanted to be and he really controlled the others. That was all true in the Kuhn administration.
Bizball: Barry Rona
Moss: Barry was one of John Gaherin’s assistant’s. I have been trying to get in touch with him and he hasn’t returned my telephone calls. I don’t know why he’s mad at me but, I haven’t talked to Barry for many, many years. Barry was okay.
Bizball: Ed Fitzgerald
Moss: We didn’t really have much to do with Ed Fitzgerald. He played a role in the background at the time, on the management side.
Bizball: Gussie Busch
Moss: Gussie Busch was, uh… I think he was appalled about the idea that players would have a union. There was a time when a labor dispute ended in a strike. And at a owner’s meeting Gussie sat up and made this long ranting speech about how they had to take the players on, and not compromise. Walter O’Malley at one point stood up and said, “Gussie, sit down.” And that was the end of that.
Bizball: Curt Flood
Moss: Curt was a very lovely person. Curt and I shared the same view about the case that it was an anti-trust case, but it wasn’t really an anti-trust case, it was also a civil rights case, and Curt treated it that way.
He had been through a lot of prejudicial behavior early in his career. In Spring Training he wasn’t able to stay in the same hotel with other players. Not being able to go into the front door of restaurants and things like that. Those were humiliating experiences. He treated what happened to him as related to that, too. It was a question of dignity and human rights and while it wasn’t a question of a black/white matter, to him it was to him a broad civil rights matter and I feel that way about the case as well.
He was dedicated to it. He made an appearance before the Board in winter 1969, and we wanted him to make the appearance and be questioned about his motivations and his sincerity. And he was terrific and the Board voted unanimously to back his lawsuit.
Bizball: One of the more interesting cases you’ve been involved in… Charlie Finley, and the Jim Hunter contract violation, and Hunter’s ability to become a free agent due to the arbitor's ruling. The ruling and Hunter’s subsequent free agency showed what could happen if the Reserve Clause were revoked; a huge increase in the salaries that owners would offer star players. Finley said that he was going through difficulties with his personal relationship and his insurance company as the excuse for simply forgetting about the provisions within the contract wherein he was supposed to put one-half of his salary into an insurance company named by Hunter. What are your recollections of the case?
Moss: The excuse that he had was, well… it was an excuse. There are a couple of cases I think that really changed the whole climate. The Hunter case was certainly one because it showed what a player’s real value was if they were free agents. Another was the Alex Johnson case. It was regarded in the press as outrageous, what we were trying to do, but Alex had problems and the arbitrator recognized it and history repeated in that context.
Bizball: Many casual fans of baseball have misunderstood what the Flood case was about. Whether it is that they see him as the man that broke the reserve clause, or was the first modern day free agent, his place in history has been clouded, for whatever reason.
Can you describe what Flood’s case meant in terms of the Players Association, to Flood himself, and what he did to advance the effort for further test cases against the Reserve Clause? (read the Supreme Court decision here)
Moss: The Reserve List at the time was enormous, and certainly one-sided. We felt that was the way to solve the problem since we couldn’t negotiate it - the owners refused to negotiate on the subject. It came down to the Supreme Court deciding to just follow the older cases, starting with the Toolson decision.
It’s interesting that the case was decided, 5-3. One judge had a conflict of interest due to investments in Busch Breweries (editor’s note: Moss is referring to Justice Lewis F. Powell. Busch, at that time, owned the Cardinals, for whom Flood was to be traded to the Phillies from) So it was one-sided. So, if the court had been the same when the case was filed, I think we would have won it. There were two Nixon appointments made in the interim, and that worked against us (editor’s note: there were actually three appointments during the interim, as outlined in Miller’s bio). Even though it’s ridiculous to say that baseball is not involved in interstate commerce, it kept that ruse up. But, at that time it was treated as the Reserve System was broken.
Bizball: On Peter Seitz’s ruling and the breaking of the Reserve Clause… How confident were you and Miller that Seitz would rule in favor of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally? Did you feel that you had a strong case?
Moss: Oh yes, absolutely. It was a case that had never been tested before, and we realized that testing it would produce the right result. As a matter of fact, the case was almost tested the year before, with Ted Simmons. When Ted signed the contract.
Bizball: On Simmons… There’s been discussions around whether Simmons was truly interested in being the test case, or whether he was simply holding out to the last minute to get a better deal. Do you feel he would have gone along with being the test case?
Moss: Well, he said he was going to, and I have no reason to put Ted down, he’s a terrific guy. I guess he just got tempted by a better offer, and he signed a new contract.
Bizball: You’ve witnessed all eight work stoppages in MLB. I asked this of Bowie Kuhn (read the Bowie Kuhn interview here), and Marvin Miller (read the Marvin Miller interview here) in prior interviews, but when it came to labor negotiations, was there ever a point where there was concern about the public’s trust? Certainly the ’94 strike did considerable damage at the time to fan support. Was there ever a case when there was consideration of saying, “enough is enough” as the number of work stoppages might damage fan support?
Moss: I think that issue has been over emphasized. I don’t think that’s really a consideration. The harm in the 1994 strike — when it was over — everyone went back to business, and baseball kept going.
Bizball: If there hadn’t been the situation with McGwire and Sosa and Ripkin’s record coming up that baseball would still be in trouble. It seems like they are just climbing out of the damage from it.
Moss: I think they climbed out of the damage a long time ago. Attendance records keep being broken. When it started, it was a business, now it’s a big business.
Bizball: I’m wondering if we can talk a bit about the Alex Johnson arbitration case. For those that may not know much about the case, and how important was it at the time, can you go over what transpired?
Moss: Alex was a very good player. He was a fine hitter. We were thinking that last year, before the suspension, he got into some strange behaviors. He would sometimes not take fielding practice. He would run in the outfield by himself, but he would always take his bat with him, strapped to his belt. Sometimes he wouldn’t run out ground balls.
He got into a dispute with a reporter who had been very critical of him and at the end of the dispute he took the reporter’s typewriter, and put it into a pail of water (editor’s note: there have been conflicting reports on this incident, in which the reporter in question played a prank and hid Johnson’s bat, which he was extremely attached to. Some have it as Johnson placing the typewriter of Dick Miller of the Los Angeles Examiner in a pail of water. Others have it as Johnson pouring coffee grounds into it when he discovered it was a prank. Whatever the case, Johnson was to have said to Miller, “Mess with the tools of my trade, and I’ll mess with yours.”)
That was sort of the last straw; he was suspended for a year without pay.
Now the bottom line was that Alex Johnston – at least at that time – was a very disturbed individual. The case came down to his testimony. Our argument was that he had an illness and he should be treated like any other player who had an illness and was disabled. We indicated he was disabled and that he should be put on the disabled list like any other injured player, and that’s the way the arbitrator ruled.
Bizball: Was the tipping point where the Players Association decided to get involved when Kuhn put him on the disqualified list?
Moss: Well, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement there has to be just cause for the penalty imposed. That was public perception, too. The public was unanimous – at least the sportswriters seemed to be – that Alex Johnston was a bad guy and deserved to be cut off at that point.
Bizball: Shifting gears a bit, when did you start to consider moving from general council of the Players Association to becoming a player agent?
Moss: Well I sort of got tired of doing the same thing with the same people for ten and a half years and I decided that it was time to leave in 1977. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time; I didn’t know that I was going to be a player agent. I had some thoughts about different things to do but, I thought that I should represent a player to show the agents out there how it should be done. I found that it was something I was interested in and I did it basically for the next 20-25 years.
Bizball: Miller said in his autobiography that, “Dick and I watched, first with a sense of satisfaction, then wonder, then ultimately horror, as the Association ushered in agents into the picture in 1970.”
Was your decision based on one part “being qualified” to properly represent players, or was there monetary considerations due to the fact that some agents were getting paid as much as the total budget for the Players Association?
Moss: Yeah, as I said, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do – I was having a midlife crisis I guess. I didn’t leave the Players Association to become an agent and make money. That wasn’t in my mind at the time.
Bizball: What kind of reactions did you receive from GMs when you first became a player agent?
Moss: I had had their respect from being the general counsel for the Players Association and I think that contributed to their ability to deal with the players, and with me individually. I think, in general, that was done professionally, and that helped me in my relationship with them.
Bizball: Let’s talk some of the key negotiations that have occurred while you have been a player agent:
Nolan Ryan the first million-dollar-a-year contract in professional team sports for Nolan Ryan in 1979. When I interviewed Buzzie Bavasi, he said there were conflicts over an insurance clause (read the Buzzie Bavasi interview here).
Moss: Tell me what Buzzie said.
Bizball: He said, “This was a life insurance policy; had nothing to do with baseball. So we said the contract is valid, except for the insurance policy. With that, the agent said, ‘Get lost.’ Never gave us a chance to negotiate.
Moss: Well, there were certainly negotiations. We made, at one point, a proposal to Buzzie. We offered a three-year contract and we wrote it up in with a third year, that he would make a million dollars. Buzzie, and the guys in the press said, “This guy is crazy! A million dollars – a million dollars a year for Nolan Ryan!” But you know that didn’t sound so outrageous. Now of course, a million dollars a year – we thought that was proper - much less a million dollars for three years.
Bizball: You negotiated outside of Tal Smith (read the Tal Smith interview here) to have Ryan go to the Houston Astros. Was that a conscious effort? He had a pretty structured system in the Astros organization with $200,000 contracts and that kind of blew up his structure. Did you feel that it was the best interest of Ryan and yourself to go directly to an owner in that situation?
Moss: No, I didn’t go directly to an owner. An owner came directly to me. John McMullen called me. We talked about Nolan Ryan. And, I like Tal as Tal’s a friend. I know Tal, and Tal was never in the picture in those negotiations.
Let me tell the story how it came together….
John and I made the deal over dinner in New York. He accepted the registered postage that I had mailed to him [regarding Ryan]. I took out a pad and started writing things down all that we were agreeing to, and then he would sign this paper. And we ran through the list, and everything was good.
And at the end I said, “Now, John, there’s one more thing that we have to talk about. When Nolan played for the Angels, he was given a single room when they were on the road,” – at that time, players had to share rooms – “and I’d like you to do that, too.”
And John said, “I’ll agree to anything else you propose, but I’m putting my foot down here; I won’t agree to it. But I’ll tell what I will do. I’ll see to it that Nolan Ryan gets offered participation in every investment deal that I personally get involved in the next three years. That’s a lot better than a single room on the road. And it’s appropriate. Because, Nolan Ryan is going to be making almost as much money as I’m making.” And that put the whole thing in context for me. Nolan Ryan is going to be making almost as much money as he makes. It wasn’t such a big deal, after all.
Bizball: At the time that this occurred his stats weren’t that great. He obviously wasn’t what he became. McMullen must have seen the potential in him. It obviously came to fruition: he’s one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Was it that it was a million dollars a year, but was it that it was a million dollars a year for Nolan Ryan?
Moss: Oh, absolutely. It had to be Nolan Ryan to give legitimacy to the contract.
Bizball: Fernando Valenzuela and his million dollar salary arbitration case in 1983… It was a big one because it was the first million dollar arbitration case. Was that part of the arbitration process? Did you sell it in that manner? Did you sell it on his great pitching because he was a great pitcher, but he was much more than that?
Moss: He was also the youngest player ever to go to arbitration. And I was able to prove that when he pitched, there were like an extra 10,000 people in the stands. And he involved the Latino community in Los Angeles for the first time – enthusiastically – for the Dodgers. He was a big asset to the Dodgers business.
In the arbitration case, we showed statistically that the Dodgers played much better when he pitched. We had a videotape that we showed during the hearing about various things that had been on television regarding “Fernandomania”. It ended with the General Manager Al Campanis. You see that Campanis is standing on the pitching mound at Dodger Stadium, and he’s been interviewed, and he says to Reuters, who are interviewing him, “You know, Walter O’Malley always said, ‘That wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a great Mexican player on this team?’" And he looked up in the sky and said, “Walter, I know you’re looking down now, and I know that everything you every dreamed of is now coming to fruition.”
They had a lawyer on the other side that jumped up and down and said this was outrageous you can’t do that, and the arbitrator said, “I’ll take it for what it’s worth.”
Bizball: Andre Dawson and the “blank contract” incident - When did the idea of doing the blank contract with Dawson? Was it something that you just hatched on a whim after being frustrated?
Moss: No. During that winter, I had a private off-the-record meeting with Dallas Green. Dallas, without saying it in precise words, indicated that he would like very much to have Andre in Chicago and that his hands were tied by ownership. This was true of all of the GMs in that period. They didn’t have any leverage; it wasn’t like they had players coming up through the system. Andre really wanted to go to the Cubs. That’s the team he really wanted to go to. And so, that seemed to be the only way to do it [do the blank salary value on the contract]. We walked into Dallas’ office − he was at the time in a general manager’s meeting − and had a signed contract and told Dallas to just fill in the salary.
Bizball: Well, the press knew about it. You called the press after it happened?
Moss: The press knew about it of course. We told the press before it happened.
Bizball: That obviously got Dallas upset...
Moss: Dallas just pretended to be upset; that the whole thing was an outrage, that it was terrible and unethical and all that sort of thing, but he was really delighted.
Bizball: That he was “delighted” because he was forcing ownership’s hand?
Moss: That’s it exactly.
Bizball: Steve Howe’s reinstatement case and any comments about his life in light of his tragic death in a car accident. Can you touch on his situation? He really had some troubling things happen with him. You argued in his arbitration case that he used cocaine due to A.D.D. Can you touch on him as a person and his case and his life in general?
Moss: Steve was hyperactive as a child and was treated with Ritalin and we didn't know anything about A.D.D. at the time. But, the Ritalin just made things worse. Steve was very edgy and hyperactive as a child and young man.
He said he initially tried cocaine after his first year with the Dodgers, when he was the Rookie of the Year, and there was a ceremony to honor him and give him the award. He said he was very nervous and somebody offered him a little cocaine and he said it calmed him down - and he got into it that way, and he had an unusual reaction to cocaine. Rather than it being an upper, he found it to be a downer. He would take cocaine and then go sit in a corner for a couple hours.
I used to say that Steve was wired differently than most of us because he reacted differently to different things. But Steve as a person... you would just love the guy! You talk to anybody that ever played with Steve Howe and they will tell you that he was a terrific guy; but in the press, they would say, "This is a bad guy. He was suspended seven times and this and that."
But, the Dodgers for example, decided after the first incident where he was suspended, that on the road, he would have someone with him after games; get a bite to eat and go have a drink or something. As it turned out, the coach was an alcoholic and Steve became an alcoholic, too, on top of that.
Steve had a very addictive personality. He was sent to various rehab centers and was given treatment that most other people get, but there was no understanding of his A.D.D. problem – that didn't come until later – until the arbitration case where we had very prominent psychiatrists on both sides – and we agreed that this was the root of the problem and that part of the treatment was that he had to understand that he couldn’t get away with anything and that he would get tested every other day (in season and off-season). And, that was the deal that was made to get him back after the 6th suspension, and that Winter, he attempted to buy cocaine from a government agent and he got suspended again.
The problem was, the Commissioner’s Office had taken the responsibility of overseeing the testing every other day. And it worked, but they didn't follow through. That winter he went through a long period of time where he wasn't tested at all, and in his mind he could get away with it; but he couldn't get away with it. The problem was that the program they set up for him was not empowered by the Commissioner’s Office; it was on that basis that the arbitrator ruled that he should be reinstated.
Bizball: If I recall correctly, he had tried to play in the minors, and that his abusing of cocaine surfaced again when he signed again with the Yankees. Was that the period you are referring to?
Moss: No. He had been suspended for life after the 6th suspension and had been out of baseball for two years. I had not represented Steve before, but he told me that he wanted to get back into baseball.
And, so I did what I could with the Commissioner’s Office. I set him up with psychiatrists; I set him up with examination.
He had bounced around before getting back with the Yankees… Mexican League, and so forth. So, I talked to Yankees’ GM Gene Michael and he first agreed to take a look at Steve in Spring Training and see what they could do. So as we got close that date he said, “I can’t do it. They called me off, and I can’t do it,” referring to bringing Howe on at Spring Training. It was very devastating to Steve, as no one would give him a chance at the time.
So, Steve and his wife Cindy and I, went to Ft. Lauderdale and went into Gene Micheal’s office. And I said, “Gene, I want you to take a look at Steve.”
Micheal said, “I told you, I can’t do it.”
Cindy sort of pleaded with him; I don’t think Gene wouldn’t have given him the chance without Cindy being there.
Eventually, I got Gene and the pitching coach to take a look at him, they liked what they saw, invited him back the next day. So, he came back the next day and then they decided to sign him to a contract. He signed with Columbus and then came up very quickly.
End of Part I. Part II to be released shortly
Interview by Maury Brown
Transcribed by Bill Jordan, Mike Elsen, and Maury Brown
Edited by Maury Brown
Maury Brown gives special thanks for Bill Jordan and Mike Elsen for great assistance in the transcription process.