Rent a Player (1977)

(“He [Bill Veeck] said he wonders now if he is the ‘rent-a-player’ business [if he doesn’t sign Richie Zisk, for instance, he will have him for only one year].” Richard Dozer. Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1977, p4-2

  • NOTE: Veeck traded for Zisk in the off-season, rather than during the season, but the sense is the same. Zisk himself said “I honestly don’t think they’re going to try to sign me. Maybe they want a rent-a-player this year.” UPI, March 4, 1977. It was widely applied to Veeck during and after the 1977 season when his White Sox did unexpectedly well (and Veeck was named Executive of the Year.) The term was used frequently as he continued the practice leading up to the 1978 season, acquiring other players in their walk years, including Bobby Bonds, Ron Blomberg, and others.
  • The term was also used to describe Veeck’s approach to players already on the White Sox who would be free agents at the end of the year and who he did not intend to sign. 

What’s wrong with employing Bill Veeck’s Rent-a-Player plan when you might win a championship?” Bob Fowler, Minneapolis Star, September 25, 1979, p9C. 

  • This column, criticizing Twins owner Calvin Griffith for failing to acquire free-agent-to-be Bob Watson from Houston during the season, is the earliest use of ‘rent-a-player’ to refer to in-season acquisitions of players who might sign with another team at season’s end. Watson was traded to the Red Sox instead. Fowler also notes many other such trades made by the Twins’ AL West rivals during the season, including Bert Campaneris (by the Angels), Willie Montanez (Rangers), Ralph Garr (Angels), and George Scott (Royals).

NOTE: There are some earlier uses of the term in the pre-free agency era with different meanings. For example, when Ken Reitz was traded from the Cardinals to the Giants in 1975 and then back to the Cardinals in 1976, Dick Young wrote that Cardinals GM Bing Devine “doesn’t trade; he runs rent-a-player agency.” 

No earliest use given in 2009 Dickson Baseball Dictionary