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Cleveland Indians: The day Sam McDowell ended his mid-season holdout

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

On August 9, 1971, Sam McDowell returned to the Cleveland Indians after a ten-day holdout. He wouldn’t stay in Cleveland for long.

On July 30, pitcher Sam McDowell walked out on the Cleveland Indians after baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn deleted two bonus clauses from his 1971 contract. The bonus clauses called for McDowell to receive $18,000 for 25 victories and an additional $10,000 for 30 wins.

Given that McDowell’s base salary was $72,000, these figures represented what would have been a significant increase.

One slight problem… at the time of his walk out there were two months left in the season… and McDowell had a record of 10-10. How exactly McDowell figured he was going to win 15 games over the past two months, when he wouldn’t even start 15 more games in 1971, was quite a mystery.

At any rate, McDowell wrote the Indians a letter, stating he would no longer play for the team and wished to be released immediately.

This was the key. McDowell felt like he had found a loophole, and intended to use it to get a more lucrative contract elsewhere.

Unlike future contract issues (Jim Bibby, Rick Manning, Don Hood stay tuned…) the Indians were not to blame on this one. The bonus provision was struck down by Bowie Kuhn, along with bonus offers to Graig Nettles, Vada Pinson and Ken Harrelson (who had retired to golf by this time).

Kuhn said the bonus arrangements “violated long standing prohibitions in major league rules.” He struck down $50,000 worth of bonuses, fined the Indians $5,000 and said that AL president Joe Cronin would decide if any of the players would merit a bonus at the end of the season.

Marvin Miller, head of the players union, went bat guano crazy, saying that the Indians were relieved of $50,000 in obligations for the sum of $5,000. Apparently Miller had the same difficulties with math/reality that McDowell did. It is unknown what the obligations for Nettles and Pinson were, but…

  1. More than $28,000 was already out of the question (McDowell + Harrelson)…
  2. If McDowell’s bonus didn’t kick in until 25 wins, it’s unlikely that Pinson or Nettles had an easily reachable bonus target either…
  3. The Indians were on their way to 102 losses – so no one was really hitting anything – baseballs, targets, nothing.

So the Indians were probably relieved of $0 in bonuses for $5,000, which was probably the gate attendance for the average home game.

This next section wasn’t written when I was 12 years old, but it could have been

McDowell’s agent, Dick Moss, said that Kuhn did what the clubs wanted him to (let’s ask Charley Finley about that, shall we?), and that McDowell should be a free agent based on the fact that the invalid bonuses made the entire contract invalid, and the Indians didn’t negotiate a new one with him.

What’s important here is this: Sam McDowell had an agent named Dick Moss.

When I write Indians history I try to remember that – despite the fact that a lot of the history happened when I was a 12-year-old boy – I’m not a 12-year-old boy.

But Sam McDowell had an agent named Dick Moss.  (Link is SFW – I promise).

Back to our story

But I digress. A few days later, McDowell reported back to Cleveland, signing a contract for 1972 while he was at it. The love affair ended over the winter, as the Indians listened to many offers before trading Sudden Sam to the San Francisco Giants for Gaylord Perry and Frank Duffy. Sam’s leaving the team for a week was cited as the primary reason for the trade.

Let’s stop and consider that for a moment, shall we?  Whenever great Indians trades are discussed – the fleecing of the Giants in this trade is at or near the top of the list:

  1. Andrew Miller.
  2. Perry for McDowell
  3. Butler and Jacoby for Lenny Barker
  4. Sandy Alomar and Baerga for Carter
  5. Lofton for Taubensee
  6. Vizquel for Jefferson and Fermin
  7. Hafner for Diaz
  8. Lee, Sizemore and Phillips for Colon
  9. Santana for Blake

Next. 3 takeaways from another walk-off win. dark

One good deal in the 70s.  And the only reason it happened was because Sam McDowell got mad.