Major League Baseball was well ahead of its contemporary leagues in terms of free agency. St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood first challenged the reserve clause in 1969 and would lose his challenge to help players be able to move freely to different teams. However, much like people who attempt betting on March Madness every spring, the players and their representatives persisted.
By 1975, the players had found a compelling case thanks to notoriously cheap owner Charlie Finely. Finley had been behind on payments to ace pitch Jim “Catfish” Hunter and was unwilling to honour the contract. The deal Hunter had signed included $100,00 owed to him for 1974, with $50,000 paid to Hunter directly and another $50,000 to be paid in monthly payments on an insurance annuity. Finley wanted to pay Hunter what he owed in a lump sum, while Hunter wanted the contract honoured.
Hunter was set free and pursued by 22 teams. He would end up signing a five-year, $3.2 million deal with the New York Yankees. Since then, MLB teams have taken advantage of signing older players. While it isn’t happening much in 2022 during the lockout, here’s a look at some of the best free agent signings ever.
Bonds, Barry Bonds
Take a second and take away that Barry Bonds was a jerk. Also, try to forget for a second about steroid use. When it came to playing outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, Bonds was one of the best of all-time.
Following seven years in Pittsburgh, Bonds signed the richest MLB contract in history, earning a six-year, $43.75 million deal. Over 15 years with the Giants, Bonds hit .312 with 586 home runs and 1,440 RBIs. San Francisco also saw a lot of team success with Bonds, reaching the 2002 World Series before losing to the Angels.
Bonds also set the single season home run record, smashing 73 in 2001 and would finish as the game’s all-time home run king with 762 career dingers.
That guy plays baseball?
Greg Maddux wasn’t a physically imposing figure. What the long-time pitcher could do, however, was locate pitches better than all of his harder-throwing contemporaries. After signing with the Atlanta Braves, leaving the Chicago Cubs behind, in 1993, Maddux’s career took off. Maddux signed a five-year, $28 million contract and rewarded the Braves by winning three Cy Youngs during his first five years with the team.
Maddux would also help guide Atlanta to the 1995 World Series title. During his 11 years in Atlanta, Maddux compiled a 194-88 record and a 2.63 ERA.
The Big Unit
Everyone from opposing batters to birds trying to mind their own business had to be a little afraid of Randy Johnson. While Johnson pitched for several teams during his long career, no team may appreciate him signing there more than the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson joined the Diamondbacks in 1999 on a five-year, $68.4 million contract.
Johnson proceeded to win four Cy Young Awards from 1999 to 2002. During the 2001 World Series, Johnson recorded three wins and helped the Diamondbacks win their only World Series. In eight seasons with Arizona finished with a 118-62 record, including a 2.83 ERA.
Toronto finds a missing piece
Paul Molitor spent the first 14 years of his career in Milwaukee and wasn’t looking to leave. However, the franchise wanted to cut his pay when the contract came up in 1992. Meanwhile, the defending World Series champion Toronto was willing to pay Molitor $13 million for three years.
Molitor fit right in with the Blue Jays, leading the American League in plate appearances and hits during the 1993 season. When Toronto made it back to the World Series, Molitor played an instrumental role in the Blues Jays’ 4-2 series win over Philadelphia. Molitor hit .500 in the World Series to capture MVP honours.