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1974: the reserve clause under attack by another Oriole

Discontent over salaries and the reserve clause worked its way to the Orioles in 1974 and found an outlet in an unlikely player. Pitcher Doyle Alexander, twenty-three and in his third season with Baltimore after being traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers, refused to sign a contract that spring. He was obliged to join the Orioles for spring training when Baltimore general manager Frank Cashen used the reserve clause to invoke the renewal option in Alexander’s contract.

Now, in June 1974, Cashen charged that Alexander’s agent, Jerry Kapstein, was using the player’s lengthy salary dispute as a way to challenge the reserve clause.

“I kind of feel sorry for Doyle,” Cashen said before the Orioles flew from Baltimore to Minneapolis on June 10 to start a three-game series against the Twins. “I feel that he is being used by his agent to see if he can break the reserve clause.”

If Kapstein succeeded in breaking the reserve clause, he would be able to auction all the ballplayers he represented to the highest bidder, Cashen said.

“If he is not doing this, why does he claim to have spent over 100 hours of research on how the reserve clause be voided by a player playing out a year in which he doesn't sign?”

Kapstein’s client list of more than 40 major league players included seven other Orioles: Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Ross Grimsley, Al Bumbry, Rich Coggins, Bob Reynolds, and Enos Cabell. He did not, however, represent McNally, whose agent was Ed Keating.

Kapstein disagreed that Alexander was being “used,” although he said a court case was a possibility. He said litigation was only a last resort if Alexander's request for a couple of thousand dollars more in pay was turned down.

“Cashen has got a job to do, but I am very disappointed and upset that he said what he did about me,” said the Washington lawyer/sports agent.

“My job is not to use Alexander, but to represent him fairly and successfully. I have great respect for Doyle for standing up for what he believes is right. He has got a lot of pride and character, makes up his own mind and is a very independent thinker. Nobody pushes him around.”

Kapstein said his goal was to get Alexander a “fair contract,” which the Orioles weren’t offering.

“We are not crusaders on the reserve clause, but if Mr. Cashen persists in not tendering a fair contract, then we have to be prepared for any event, just as Mr. Cashen prepares himself to negotiate any deal.”

Then, in a seeming harbinger of what McNally and Messersmith would do in their 1975 arbitration case, Kapstein said he hoped the reserve clause wouldn’t be tested in Alexander's dispute. The clause binding baseball players to the club with which they were signed was, however, bound to be tested, “whether Frank Cashen or Jerry Kapstein is around, or not.”

Kapstein said he and Cashen had always gotten along well, and he harbored no bitterness toward the Orioles executive. Still, Alexander had posted a 12-8 record in the Orioles' AL East championship run in 1973, six more wins than in 1972. Thus, “I believe our request is reasonable, and I don’t know why Cashen won't give him a raise.”

Alexander was believed to be asking for a raise of $2,000 to $3,000 from the reported $35,000 he was paid in 1973. “Surprisingly, we are not all that far apart,” Alexander said. Cashen “has told me what he says is his highest price. I have told him the lowest I will take. He gave me a raise, but it was more like a token than what I think that I deserve.”

Alexander said he didn’t intend to settle for less than what he was asking for, so “there is not much left that can be talked about.”

Cashen said Alexander got a chance to take his salary dispute to arbitration, the same process McNally used successfully in the winter of 1974, but Alexander turned down that option. Cashen warned that if he gave in to Alexander, then in the spring of 1975, “I will have 25 of them (Orioles players) sitting out under the same circumstances.”

Alexander’s dispute resulted in an event that became part of Orioles’ lore. Pitcher Jim Palmer, in a July 26, 2023, text message, said Alexander played out his option year in case he was granted free agency.

“He took a 20 percent pay cut, which all players that played out their options did. He told our pitching coach, George Bamberger, if he was only getting eighty percent of his salary, he was only running eighty percent of our eighteen foul line-to-foul line (runs) we did as a team.”

Alexander’s ploy lasted about two minutes, Palmer said.

“George embarrassed Doyle by telling him if you don’t run, nobody runs. Doyle ran. Whining to the wrong guy, Bambi (Bamburger)!”

Alexander eventually benefited from the stand that McNally and Messersmith took, the 1975 arbitration caus­e use that resulted in overturning the reserve clause. The Alabama-born pitcher was granted free agency on November 1, 1976, and the Texas Rangers signed him. During a 19-year big league career in which he won 194 games, he signed as a free agent with Toronto, Atlanta, and Detroit. His reported salaries in the free-agent era ranged from $150,000 with Texas in 1977 to $1 million with Detroit in 1989 when he was thirty-eight.

McNally, in contrast, never made an extra dollar as a result of the labor decision he helped birth.

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Jamie Larson