Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
A Fine Mess
2005-12-23 09:21
by Alex Belth

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Messersmith/McNally ruling that would mark the end of the reserve clause and initiate the begining of the free agency era. I've got a piece commemorating the anniversary over at

While Dave McNally, whose role in the affair is often over-looked, retired, Andy Messersmith was granted free agency. Though he ultimately signed a 3-year, $1 million deal with Ted Turner to play for the Braves, he almost became a Yankee.

"Messersmith, of course, almost played for the Yankees. If he had, though, he would have played under an agreement that, in part, would have been illegal.

The illegal portion of the agreement Messersmith nearly signed was a side letter the Yankees didn't intend to include with the uniform player's contract that was to be filed with the American League office. It covered two points, one dealing with the pitcher's dress and grooming, the other with an agreement under which the Yankees, at George Steinbrenner's suggestion, would have received 40 percent of all fees Messersmith would have earned for advertising and commercial endorsements.

The side agreement, illegal under baseball law, was part of the evidence introduced earlier this month in the two day hearing held before Commissioner Bowie Kuhn into the disputed between the Yankees and Messersmith..."

Murray Chass, New York Times. April 25, 1976.

Kuhn would declare the deal void, paving the way for Ted Turner. But after a difficult 1976, and an injury-riddled '77, Turner shipped Messersmith to the Yankees.

Here is what Sparky Lyle had to say about it. From his book, "The Bronx Zoo":

Monday, March 6 (1978):

I got myself worked up so much that I finally went in to talk to George. I told him, "You bought Messsersmith's contract from Atlanta from $333,333. The man has just had an arm operation, you don't know whether he can throw, and if he can throw, you don't know whether he can make our pitching staff, it's the final year of his contract, and next year he'll be a free agent again." I said, "I'll be a son of a bitch if after performing like I have for you since you've taken over this ball club and after you give him double the money I'm making, I don't get what he's making." In baseball, owners and general managers are always telling players that how valuable you are to the ball club is determined by how you perform and how many years you're with the club. But then a new guy is signed, and none of that crap matters.

And then, a few weeks later:

Thursday, March 16:

All spring Andy Messersmith had been pitching real well, super for a guy who had just had his elbow operated on. His fastball was moving, he had good control, and it was looking like George's gamble might have paid off, until today. We were playing the White Sox in an exhibition game, and in the fourth inning, Ralph Garr hit a grounder to Cliff, who was playing first. Andy ran to cover the bag, and when Cliff threw behind him, Andy fell trying to reach back for the ball. He fell hard on his shoulder, and now doctors think it might be separated. He may miss the rest of the season.

Messersmith would start five games for the Yanks, going 0-3 (and allowing seven dingers), in a total of 22 innings. But he was hurt for the majority of the season and was released in November. Messersmith ironically ended his career the following year with the Dodgers, the team he never wanted to leave in the first place. But he only pitched in 62 innings was was cut at the end of August.

House Calls

I spoke with Dr. Mike Marshall about Messersmith earlier this week. Marshall and Messersmith were teammates with the Dodgers in '74 and '75 and then again with the Braves in '76. In '74, Marshall, who was studying for his doctorate in the science of human movement at the University of Michigan during the off-season, had one of the greatest single seasons ever by a relief pitcher and won the CY Young award. Here is a small portion of our conversation:

Mike Marshall: When I arrived in spring training in '74, Andy came over and he said, uh, "I'm in your hands, tell me what to do this year." Andy was a great pitcher that just didn't have anybody to guide and that he thought that I could was certainly a compliment.

BB: Was it that he didn't trust the pitching coaches he had had?

Marshall: No, he had pitching coaches, but I think was the only person at the time to do any analysis of pitch sequencing. I did that at Michigan State. I analyzed what pitching sequences had most favorable results against which kind of hitters. In any case, Andy had a problem. He had a very deformed pitching arm from baseball pitching…I took the x-rays right after the '74 season. He came up to Michigan State. I took x-rays and explained to him what was going on, and tried to get him to learn how to stop doing it. But it's a problem inherent in the natural pitching motion that you slam you bang the bones of your elbow together…He knew I was doing this kind of work and research and most people knew that I was actively doing high-speed filming and researching of the baseball pitching motion. So we worked together and became friends in that regard, and I helped him with pitch sequencing and he had a pretty good year that year in '74, actually had it not been for me he would have won the CY Young award, since he was second. If his arm hadn't been destroyed that much from using a traditional pitching motion…he was a superlative pitcher. He had outstanding pitches that he held back by the fact that his pitching arm was essentially handicapped.

BB: What did he throw?

Marshall: Well, he threw very hard. He was a very powerful man and he had an outstanding change up and he threw a very good breaking ball.

BB: Was it a slider?

Marshall: No, I think he threw more of a curve ball, but it was a very hard pitch. And it worked as strike out pitch. In other words, a slider is not a strikeout pitch unless you get some dufus to chase it out of the strike zone. It moves laterally within the strike zone they usually get a piece of it. But his ball had more of a down-break. It was a high-quality pitch. He was certainly an outstanding pitcher that would have been far better had he not used the traditional pitching motion for his entire life. But still, he did well. But I always look at it the as how much better people could be if they didn't have these problems.

BB: What kind of personality did he have?

Marshall: Well, Andy's a very up beat, out-going personality, but he's also extremely private. On the one hand when you're with him he can be charming and exuberant and all of that and then snap, disappear on you and you wont' see him. I doubt very much that you could reach him or that he'd talk to you or anything.

BB: I actually did reach him and he declined to comment on anything.

Marshall: You reached him, that's amazing. I mean I don't know how you were able to do that, I happen to be able to get a hold of him and talk to him on occasion but I don't abuse it. And the man just doesn't look on his professional years as anything he wants to recall. And that's fine. There's people…I mean he received a lot of grief from some people for courage. The morons out there that think we aren't nothing but puppets and chattel for their enjoyment. We're not human beings deserving of any fair play or due process or anything.

BB: How bad a toll did the backlash in '76 take on him mentally?

Marshall: Well, I can't speak to that, Andy's not one to let you psychoanalyze him nor would I even try. I'm sure that it was a difficult time for him. I think he did a good job but he did withdraw a little bit more, he became more private. Didn't seek to be out in the public that much. That's understandable. I would have been more the type to say, you know, kiss my behind you moron don't you know anything. You're not going to join your union and expect your rights but we can't have em. Any person with a brain would realize that what we did was completely legal and appropriate given the situation.

Messersmith was a fine pitcher before he became a free agent. Yes, his injury history was probably bound to catch up with him, but the added mental pressures he faced really messed with him..

In November, 1986, Frank Blackman did a profile on Messersmith for the San Francisco Examiner. Messersmith had moved on from the professional game and was happily coaching high school kids:

"I can honestly say I'm happier now than at any time I was playing baseball…

Baseball was always too much work…It was always too heavy. It was no fun. Here we are, making more money than you can spend. You're playing in a beautiful area. And it's not fun. We're not having a good time. Look out there. How many guys are really having a good time playing baseball? Really having fun?"

"Somebody asked me once what I missed most about baseball. And I said the first and the 15th."

..."I did this free agency thing and that really took care of my career…I had always had a good rapport with the fans, especially in Los Angeles. All the energy started turning the other way when I did this thing."

"Ninety-eight percent of my mail was hate mail. I got hit over the head coming out of a ballpark. The players, my peers, were ripping me in the press."

..."I really think I overdid it," he says, the pain still apparent on his face. "I tired. I wanted to. That was too much money for me. I tried too hard. I forced it."

Life improved for Messersmith when he left baseball. Still, he and Dave McNally should be remembered for their actions in helping to defeat the reserve clause. They took a lot of hits--especially Messersmith--for their stand. It wasn't pretty for him but it showed that you could end up with a mediocre career and still make a lot of bread in baseball. Which has become a tradition in and of itself for the last 30 years. So he's a trend-setter in that way too.

2005-12-23 12:10:47
1.   walein
very well done
2005-12-23 16:21:03
2.   chris in c-bus
Great article on, Alex. The impact free agency has had on the game is truly amazing. Beyond what it has done on the field, it sure makes winter another key part of a team's season and it's almost as fun to watch unfold as a pennant race.
I've only been lurking on BB for about a year but wanted to thank you and cliff for the excellent columns.
2005-12-24 06:52:23
3.   jayd
My apologies for being totally off topic. That said, you have to check out a new folk hero, Phil Simkins:
2005-12-24 07:01:45
4.   Matt B
Great SI piece, Alex. It's funny, I can't imagine what the off-season was like before free agency. Reggie coming to NY may have been the event that made me aware of baseball as a kid.
2008-08-08 08:18:03
5.   koolman2

You posted a notice about Phil Simkins and the Daily News.

The story was about how the Yankees in the championship season of 96 used a body cooling invention of his and never got credit for it.

He finally asked for compensation, but the Yankees turned a deaf ear on him which has kept him in a homeless situation ever since and deprived the firefighters, police, soldiers, elderly, and everybody from having his revolutionary body cooling device that could have saved thousands of lives from heat stroke and allowed us to win the war in Iraq, years ago.

It's a great story and a sad one for the Yankees, which might explain why they stopped winning championships so suddenly and were humiliated by Boston.

It just might be the curse of the Kool Rope coming back to haunt them.

The reason I know the story is because, I am Phil Simkins!!!

And for those who want to know the entire story follow along:

I had been in touch with the trainer for the Yankees, Gene Monahan, in 1995, about the cooling units and had made him several units of the necklace version which he kept in the training room locker.

He had even put me in touch with the Valvoline Nascar racing team and Mark Martin their driver to see if they could test the units while driving in a race.

I sent down 2 heavy duty Kool Ropes to Mark and he tried them out while practicing in his race car.

He got back to me and said that they worked great and if I could get the electronic freezer pack finished, he would definitely use them at races.

During the 95 season, the weather during the Yankee games never got too hot so the ropes were never used, but in 96 I developed the yellow Kool Rope for use by firefighters, policeman, construction workers, that i sent you the sample of.

I called Gene Monahan during the season and asked him if he would show the new unit to Dwight Gooden to see if he would endorse them and also that they were not for athletic use.

I dropped off to Yankee stadium, 2 units in late July and called Gene back on August 20 to see what Dwight had said.

Gene told me that he wanted to wait till after the season ended before doing any endorsement deals and then as I was hanging up the phone he said, "Oh by the way, Phil, some of the players have been using it in batting practice!!!"

I said to myself, Wow, now I am a part of Yankee history!!!"

Gene asked me to give him a call back in two weeks when they returned from California and he would discuss it further with me.

But, the team was doing so well at that time, I decided not to call until after the season was over, so not to take attention away from them winning.

I told the firefighters up at the 77th about the Yankees using the units and said that if we could be patient and wait until the season was over, if they won the Series, than what better publicity to get them into production than to have helped keep the team cool.

Well, as the story goes, they won an exciting Series with everything falling into place and I knew that my moment would soon come.

I waited until after the parades and festivities were over before I sent a letter to Mr. Steinbrenner.

He had known about the team use of the ropes right after Gene told me because I called his office and told his secretary, Lisa,about it and then sent her a unit to give to Mr. Steinbrenner, which she kept in the office refrigerator.

I waited for a reply and got none.

I then sent another and the same thing happened.

I did not know what was going on because I was not asking for money, just acknowledgement of my contribution.

It was a day or two after Christmas when I walked into a copy store on west 52nd street to fax another letter to Steinbrenner, when I saw on the wall all of these Christmas cards that were signed by Yankee players.

I asked the owner, Marthe, how she came by these and she said that her husband worked for the Yankees in the PR Dept.

So, I told her the story and asked her if she would give Gene a call to see what happened.

She spoke with him by phone and told me that he said that the team had used the Kool Ropes for a week in batting practice and then found them to be cumbersome and for me not to write to Steinbrenner anymore.

Well, I was crushed to say the least and didn't know why they would want to keep it a secret since they obviously had a positive effect on the performance of the team and by publicizing their use, it would have enabled me to get them into production for everyone, including the fans who came out to see games on really hot days.

So, for years after never knowing what happened and still trying to get the units into production someone told me that they probably didn't want it to be known that they used the ropes because it might have been considered an unfair advantage.

Gene Monahan knows the truth and the fact that they used the ropes for a week where they were playing in a heat wave in Texas and Kansas City and that they had to win at least one game at Texas or they would have known that they never could beat them at home which would have been a psychological disadvantage come the playoffs.

They won the third and last game they played in Texas and you had to know they were desperate after losing the first 2 to try anything to win. It was a close 6-5 win but keeping cool in that heat surely gave them the feeling of being able to overcome any obstacles and feeling as if they were Supermen.

They went on to Kansas City where they won 2 out of 4 and won on the hottest and most oppressive days. They also won in Texas on the hottest day. Then they left for cooler locations where they did not need the units.








The 1996 World Series win marked the birth of the modern day Yankee dynasty, where they went on to win 3 more championships and made the playoffs each year, since.

It is a dark secret, kept by the Yankees for twelve years, that have prevented the world from having their cooling units and, certainly, changing the course of history!!!

If you guys want to get rid of a curse that might be keeping the Yankees in real hot water, and you can't blame me because I'm still stuck in homelessness, post this and give Lonn Trost a call who on 2 occasions called me a liar and the other asked what I wanted, because he knew it was true, before slamming the phone in my ear and then stand outside the player's entrance before a home game, usually he arrives about 2:00, and shout out to Gene Monahan, "Is it true that the team used Phil Simkins's Kool Rope in batting practice during the 96 season to keep cool in a heat wave in Texas and Kansas City??? "And why did you stiff him for the past 12 years and not allowed us to get our ropes???"

Monahan is the "keeper of the secret" guys so you have to get in his face and stay there until he fesses up, and then I can get you your ropes and the curse will be lifted.

But, you would think I would be still mad and hate the yankees??? Sure, to some extent, I'm human, but I will root for them and stand up for them by fighting a devious plot to put a curse on Yankee fans by putting up a monument to the Red Sox by a closet Sox fan who was the architect behind renovating the old Verizon buiding on 42nd street and sixth.

Dan Shannon, the architect, and Yankee hater, had the color of the building made in, brace yourself, "Fenway Green!!!"

That's right. Check it out. It's the exact color and shade of the notorious fenway Park and the Green Monster!!!

And you know how I found out his plot???

I matched the color on Google images and then went to his site where he had his projects listed and I knew that if he did any work in Boston then he certainly would know what that color was.

What I found at the bottom of the page when everything else was done in NYC and I was ready to admit he might be clean as a whistle was this entry:

0 ST. JAMES, Boston, MA, (1991)
Senior designer for 600,000 sq.ft. office building in
Boston Back Bay for Macomber Development.

BOSTON CROSSING, Boston, MA, (1989 to 1990)
Senior designer for the master plan and architectural
design for 3 million sq.ft. mixed-use project in
downtown Boston for Campeau Development.

So, as Columbo would break out a cigar when he cracked the case, I said to myself, "I got this guy!!!"

Check out the Green Shadow Post article and see what I said.

If I truly hated them would I try to save the team from a curse worst then what the Sox endured.

This one is right in your own backyard sitting right in your face.

Blackstone Group owns the building, so you got to call them, but don't do anything stupid, OK guys.

We'll get the color changed!!! and you guys help me with the Kool Rope. This has been a bitch of a ride but' things happen for a reason and I have some other monumental things to come out.

Take care guys!!!

Phil Simkins

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