Curt Flood

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Curt Flood challenged Major League Baseball's reserve clause. Once castigated, he's now seen as a hero, particularly by black players.

Curtis Charles Flood (born January 18, 1938 in Houston, Texas—died January 20, 1997 in Los Angeles, California), was a Major League Baseball player, primarily a center fielder, for the Cincinnati Reds (1956-1957) and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1958-1971).

A three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, Flood hit .300 or better six times during his 15-year major league career. He played on two World Series championship teams in 1964 and 1967, and, had he not misjudged a fly ball in the seventh game of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, the Cardinals might have won a third championship in the decade.

However, Curt Flood's legacy was one of sacrificing a potential Hall of Fame career by challenging Major League Baseball's decades-old reserve clause that stifled player movement even after players' contracts with teams had been fulfilled.

Curt Flood Challenges the Reserve Clause

On October 7, 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, outfielder Byron Browne, and left-handed pitcher Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for first baseman Dick Allen, second baseman Cookie Rojas, and right-handed pitcher Jerry Johnson.

However, Flood refuse to report to the moribund Phillies, citing the team's poor record and the fact that they played in dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium before belligerent and, reportedly, racist fans.

In a letter to Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Curt Flood demanded that the commissioner declare him a free agent.

Flood's Letter to Kuhn

December 24, 1969

After twelve years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the sovereign States.

It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia Club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League Clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.


Commissioner Bowie Kuhn denied his request, citing the propriety of the reserve clause.

In response, Curt Flood filed a lawsuit against him and Major League Baseball on January 16, 1970, alleging that Major League Baseball had violated federal antitrust laws.

Even though Flood was making $90,000 at the time, he likened the reserve clause to slavery.

The case, Flood v. Kuhn, (407 U.S. 258), eventually went to the Supreme Court. Flood's attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, asserted that the reserve clause depressed wages and limited players to one team for life.

Major League Baseball's counsel countered that Commissioner Kuhn acted under the way he did "for the good of the game".

Ultimately, the Supreme Court, liberally interpreting the rule of stare decisis "to stand by things decided", ruled 5-3 in favor of Major League Baseball, upholding a 1922 ruling in the case of Federal Baseball Club v. National League, (259 U.S. 200).

Ironically, even though Curt Flood lost the lawsuit, the reserve clause was struck down within a few years of Flood's retirement.

Flood sat out the entire 1970 and returned for a short stint with the Washington Senators in 1971 before retiring permanently. In 1971, he wrote an autobiography entitled "The Way It Is" (ISBN 0671270761).

Curt Flood died of throat cancer in Los Angeles, California at age 59.