The death of the Reserve Clause and the birth of free agency in the mid-1970s ushered in a new era of baseball that saw skyrocketing salaries and multiple-year contracts. For the players, it was a victory over the owners who had sought to limit their salaries and leave them with no room to negotiate. Since then, however, some former Red Sox are saying that huge salaries and multiple-year contracts are leaving current players with less motivation to play as hard as they can.
I recently spoke with Jim Gosger, a former Red Sox reserve outfielder who played for the team from 1963 to 1966. Known as a line-drive hitter, Gosger played in the major leagues for a dozen years, and won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1969. Gosger told me that his years in the big leagues were the best years of his life, and that most players back then played for the love of the game. He said that many players today just don’t have the drive and enthusiasm to play because to them it’s all about the money. “There’s no loyalty to a team anymore,” Gosger told me, “We used to have to be at a certain weight when we arrived at spring training. But now look at Pablo (Sandoval). How do you even get that far overweight?” Gosger’s words echo what many other former players like him are saying today.
I sat in on a Q&A last summer with members of the 1975 Boston Red Sox World Series team that included Jim Rice. Rice said that fans would start seeing players play much harder with more motivation if they got one and two year contracts instead of the six or seven year contracts many of them are accustomed to receiving. Rice makes a good point. If you’re an outfielder with a six-year contract making $5 million a year and you want to take a day off, who’s going to stop you? You’re a millionaire, so what do you care if someone gets on your case for not hustling? For a million dollars I’d lean in and let pitchers peg me if it meant getting on base to help the Red Sox win!
Former Red Sox Players Knew How to Hustle!
A lack of hustle used to get a player benched immediately. During a game in 1977 against the Red Sox, the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson got yanked from the game by his manager, Billy Martin, for not hustling to field a hit. Jackson seemed to almost jog to the ball as Jim Rice pulled into second base for a double. While Jackson said he misjudged the depth of the hit, anyone watching the footage can immediately tell he wasn’t giving his best effort. It’s worth mentioning that Jackson was one of the game’s first $1 million players. What’s bothersome to former Red Sox players and old-school fans alike is this lack of hustle makes the game less exciting, which is the last thing baseball needs. Games already last for hours, and while I love every minute of it, I’d love it even more if I saw outfielders diving for catches, or a hitter run his butt off trying to beat out a bunt.