Thursday, January 20, 2005

January 20th, 1997

Curt Flood Dies

Curt Flood too often ends up a footnote in baseball history, the man who "failed" in challenging the reserve clause where Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally succeeded. This is a great shame, as Flood deserves far better. A lifetime .293 hitter, Flood was also widely regarded as an exceptional center fielder, winning seven Gold Gloves. Following the 1969 season, Flood was traded (along with others) to Philadelphia. Flood was unhappy at being traded from the Cardinals, with whom he had won two World Series and three pennants to the generally mediocre Phillies, and more to the point, to being traded to Philadelphia, a city he viewed as racist. Flood also objected to the notion that players were mere property who could be moved around without their consent or input.

Flood sent a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn asking Kuhn to declare him a free agent. When Kuhn (predictably) declined, Flood flied suit. The suit alleged baseball's Reserve Clause (which bound a player to a team until he was traded or released) was unconstitutional. Flood's action marked the effective end of his career, although the suit would not be resolved until the Supreme Court ruled against him in Flood v. Kuhn in 1972, Flood sacrificed his $100,000 salary for 1970 and would play just 13 games after 1969. Flood spent much of the rest of his life (when he died was just fifty-nine) in
Europe although he did publish an autobiography The Way It Is. Despite Flood's failure, many observers, both in the legal and sports community believe he demonstrated the inherent flaws of the Reserve Clause. In 1975, less than three years after Flood lost his case, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally: the Reserve Clause was dead and free agency born in its wake. Messersmith, McNally and Marvin Miller all deserve praise for their role in ending the reserve clause, but no one more than Curt Flood, who ended his career to stand up for what he believed in.

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