That time Ted Turner flirted with signing Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson

Bill Shanks

Ted Turner always wanted to make a splash. He wanted the Braves, his Braves, to win. But he also wanted them to win so his ratings on WTBS would lead to additional advertising revenue.

Turner signed Andy Messersmith, one of the first official free agents in baseball. Messersmith signed a three-year, $1 million contract.

Messersmith had been the Los Angeles Dodgers best pitcher for three years, from 1973-1975, with a 2.51 ERA, averaging 37 starts, 288 innings, 18 wins and 204 strikeouts per season. He finished in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting twice, including fifth place in 1975, when he was 19-14 with a 2.29 ERA in a league-leading 321⅔ innings.

But Messersmith refused to sign his contract in 1975, when he was turning 29. The Dodgers renewed his contract at $115,000, up from $90,000 after finishing second in Cy Young voting the year before. It was less than what Messersmith wanted. 

At issue for Messersmith, and ultimately in the arbitration case that decided the matter, was baseball's long-standing reserve clause.

Arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Messersmith and the players. Seitz wrote, "There is nothing in section 10(a) which explicitly, expresses agreement that the Players Contract can be renewed for another period beyond the first renewal year."

Messersmith became a free agent and signed with the Braves. He had a decent first season with the Braves (11-11, 3.04) in 1976, but the next season he struggled at 5-4 in only 16 starts. The Braves sold him to the Yankees in December 1977.

But the Braves weren't always successful when pursuing free agents. Bob Hope fills us in.

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