Although Curt Flood and Marvin Miller get all the headlines for taking on the reserve clause, it was Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally that were successful in establishing free agency. The two pitchers played the 1975 season without contracts as their case went before court. They won their case and Messersmith signed the first free agency contract with the Braves.
One of the top pitchers of the 1970s, Messersmith made his debut with the Angels in 1968. The young right-hander showed immense potential by fashioning a 2.21 ERA and averaging an unearthly 0.543 hits per inning. The Angels had a young prodigy on their hands. Andy finished third in the American League with 211 strikeouts in 1969 and was the most difficult pitcher to hit in the junior circuit. Messy surrendered just 169 hits in 250 innings of work, for an average of 0.676 hits per inning. Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter (0.850) and Jim Palmer (0.724) weren’t even in the same league as Messersmith.
After a so-so 1970 season, Andy became a 20-game winner in 1971. An All-Star, Andy fashioned a 20-13 2.99 ERA worksheet and finished fifth in Cy Young Award voting. Throughout his career, Andy had three Top Five finishes in Cy Young voting but never did get the award. After missing part of the 1972 season to injury, the Angels traded him to the Dodgers for Bill Singer, Billy Grabarkewitz, Billy Valentine and an aging veteran named Frank Robinson.
Andy joined the Dodgers rotation in 1973 and fashioned a 2.70 ERA. But Messy was at his best in 1974 and 1975. In ’74, Andy led the NL in wins, winning percentage and WHIP while also making the All-Star team, winning a Gold Glove and coming in second to teammate Mike Marshall in Cy Young Award voting. After the season, Andy desired to take on the owners and played out the 1975 season without a contract. In doing so, Messersmith opened himself up to the possibility of free agency. The ’75 season was a great one for Messy. An All-Star again, Andy led the NL in complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and had the lowest hit allowed average. When he won free agency, he was a hot commodity.
The Atlanta Braves won the bidding war for Messersmith’s services in 1976. Andy was named to his fourth and final All-Star team that year while posting a 3.04 ERA. 1976 would be his last healthy campaign. He made just 16 starts in 1977 and just five for the Yankees in 1978. Back with the Dodgers in 1979, Andy made his last eleven Major League starts before calling it quits.
W 130/L 99/PCT .568/G 344/CG 98/IP 2,230/H 1,719/BB 831/SO 1,625/SHO 27/ERA 2.86