It is disappointing, but at the end of the day, you just have to go out and play … I’d love to be an Oriole forever. I love the organization, I love the fans here. I love everything about this, and putting the uniform on every day. I just want to be treated fairly. That’s it.

We all remember that feeling.  It’s the first of the month — the beginning of a new year as far as payroll is concerned. And we just can’t get over the fact that our annual salary is only $519,000. Never mind that $100,000 bonus we got for winning the 2013 Rawlings Platinum Glove award. What, are we expected to lay back while The Man pulls a fast one on us?

Oh, wait, we don’t remember that feeling at all.

Manny Machado, on the other hand, is currently living these feelings. The American League’s top defender last season is entering his second full year in the majors, and the Orioles’ superstar third baseman expressed discontent about the size of his contract.

What gets lost in his indignant comment is the overall context. Not just for non-professional athletes — many of whom are lucky to accrue $619,000 in their lifetime — but for the past players who suffered through the tyrannic rule of MLB’s higher-ups in regards to free agency and player rights.

Curt Flood: The Free Agent

Before Curt Flood, Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith got the reserve clause abolished in the 70s, free agency didn’t exist in baseball. The clause gave major league owners the right to renew a player’s contract a season longer under his previous terms. However, the real source of the problem was in the owner’s use of the renewal clause, which gave them the right to use those previous terms over, and over, and over, into perpetuity. Don’t like the terms of your contract? Too bad, here’s your salary and we’ll see you in the dugout until we don’t need you anymore, say, I don’t know, twenty years from now.

So, sure, these players were making more than the layman, but they couldn’t earn what they were truly worth. Owners were ecstatic, as they could sign and keep players until their careers ended.  Players were livid, as they were leaving huge chunks of money on the table.

Flood, McNally and Messersmith eventually won and ushered in the era of free agency as we know it today (with a few minor adjustments along the way).  Once a player is put on the active 25-man roster, their service clock starts and they are now “counting down” to free agency.  All players must play their first three seasons at the league minimum before they are eligible for arbitration in their final three seasons. This is when they begin to earn “fair value” for their services. And once they have played out their final years of arbitration, they either agree to an extension with their current team or they enter the free agent market, ready to plunder.

Most importantly, they control their own destiny.

It is without question that the reserve clause was exploitation of labor, but it seems as though the current system strikes somewhat of a balance between ownership and the players. Owners are rewarded for developing their own talent in the form of three cheap years of service.  Players are rewarded with their freedom. This is the way professional sports work pretty much across the board; so what if MLB was a little late to the party?

Sure, we are in an age of instant gratification, but come on, Manny, you can stomach under a million dollars annually for a couple more years before undoubtedly earning that first big pay day from the arbitrators. Hell, go out and play like you did last year and it is much more likely that you will get an extension sooner (if Scott Boras allows it, that is). But the way it goes down now, it almost feels like Machado’s camp is trying to peer pressure the Baltimore front office into paying more. And you can’t blame Dan Duquette for balking — Machado is coming off of minor reconstructive knee surgery, so let’s make sure the Golden Boy is the same as before.

Eventually, there is inevitably an enormous contract coming Machado’s way — barring an unforeseen calamity *knock on wood, Orioles fans*. The same can’t be said about the rest of the people holding jobs in this country, and it couldn’t have been said about major leaguers before 1976. Let’s try to keep that in perspective. After all, “fair” is very much a relative term.

And for now, keep making plays like this, and that pay day will come soon enough.

[Baltimore Sun, Baseball Reference]