An Economic Freedom Fighter – Curt Flood


Curtis Charles Flood (January 18, 1938–January 20, 1997) was a Major League Baseball player who spent most of his career as a center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. A defensive standout, he led the National League in putouts four times and in fielding percentage twice, winning Gold Glove Awards in his last seven full seasons from 1963–1969. He also batted over .300 six times, and led the NL in hits (211) in 1964. He retired with the third most games in center field (1683) in NL history, trailing only Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn.

Flood became one of the pivotal figures in the sport’s labor history when he refused to accept a trade following the 1969 season, ultimately appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although his legal challenge was unsuccessful, it brought about additional solidarity among players as they fought against baseball’s reserve clause and sought free agency.

Despite his outstanding playing career, Flood’s principal legacy developed off the field. He believed that Major League Baseball’s decades-old reserve clause was unfair in that it kept players beholden for life to the team with whom they originally signed, even when they had satisfied the terms and conditions of those contracts.

On October 7, 1969, the 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 refused 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, Flood believed, racist – fans. Some reports say he was also irritated that he had learned of the trade from a reporter,but Flood’s autobiography says he learned of the trade from mid-level Cardinal’s management and he was angry that the call did not come from the general manager. He forfeited a relatively lucrative $100,000 contract by his refusal to be traded, and consulted with players’ union head Marvin Miller.He also met with Phillies general manager John Quinn, who left the meeting with the belief that he had convinced Flood to report to the team. After being advised that the union was prepared to pay the costs of the lawsuit, he chose to proceed.

In a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood demanded that the commissioner declare him a free agent:

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 several 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 decision. 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 Kuhn denied his request, citing the propriety of the reserve clause and its inclusion in Flood’s 1969 contract. In response, Flood filed a $1 million lawsuit (which would be automatically tripled under the Sherman Act) against Kuhn 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; it was a controversial analogy, even among those who opposed the reserve clause. Among those testifying on his behalf were former players Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, and former owner Bill Veeck; no active players testified, nor did any attend the trial. Although the player representatives had voted unanimously to support the suit, rank-and-file players were strongly divided, with many fervently supporting the management position.

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 in the way he did “for the good of the game.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court, acting on 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). Justice Lewis Powell did not participate in the case due to his ownership of stock in Anheuser-Busch, which owned the Cardinals.

Flood sat out the entire 1970 season. Eventually, the Cardinals were forced to give up two minor leaguers to the Phillies in compensation for Flood’s refusal to report, one of whom – center fielder Willie Montañez – went on to have a 14-year career. Meanwhile, in November 1970 Flood was sent by the Phillies to the Washington Senators in a five-player trade, and signed a $110,000 contract with Washington. He ended his career with 13 games for the Senators in 1971, in which he batted only .200 and had lackluster play in center field. Former teammate Gibson later wrote that Flood once returned to his locker to find a funeral wreath on it. Despite manager Ted Williams’ vote of confidence, Flood retired. He had a lifetime batting average of .293 with 1861 hits, 85 home runs, 851 runs and 636 RBI. Lou Brock called him a primary reason for his great success during the prime of his career.

Later that year, Flood wrote an autobiography entitled The Way It Is. He also indulged in his love of painting. Ultimately, the reserve clause was struck down in 1975 when arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that since pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played for one season without a contract, they could become free agents. This decision essentially dismantled the reserve clause and opened the door to widespread free agency.

Flood vs. Kuhn


The Way It Is by Curt Flood

A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports by Brad Snyder

One Man Out: Curt Flood Versus Baseball by Robert M. Goldman

The Curt Flood Story: The Man Behind the Myth by Stuart L. Weiss

Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights by Alex Belth (Author), Tim McCarver (Foreword)

Baseball’s Reserve System: The Case and Trial of Curt Flood Vs. Major League Baseball by Neil F. Flynn

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