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Curt Flood, the Player Who Changed MLB and Free Agency

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One man challenged MLB and free agency but lost his own career.

Curt Flood

Curt Flood

Curt Flood MLB Career

Charles Curt Flood was born in 1938 in Houston, Texas, to Herman and Laura Flood. His mother had fled racism in the South; the family moved to Oakland, California. She made sure to never let Curt forget how things were. In 1962, 24-year-old Flood went to join Dr. Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson to support the NAACP. A couple of years later, Flood rented a house with his wife and children. While moving in, he was confronted with a loaded shotgun. Flood sued the landlord and won. He realized what it was like to be a black man in 1964, even after he was back from winning the World Series.

Most black baseball stars like Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Ernie Banks were invisible during the Civil Rights Movement.

He would play 15 seasons in MLB. He started in 1956 for the Cincinnati Redlegs, 1956-1969 with the St. Louis Cardinals, sitting out the 1970 season, and played in 1971 for the Washington Senators. From that point on, he was blackballed from baseball.

Flood challenged the league as he refused to be traded to Philadelphia. This resulted in him suing MLB, opening up the floodgates for free agency. However, the price he paid was his career.

Flood accolades included being a three-time All-Star, winning the Golden Glove Award seven consecutive seasons, winning the Jackie Robinson Award, batting over 300 in six seasons, having RBIs of 636, being on three pennant teams, and winning two World Series rings.

Golden Glove Award

Golden Glove Award

The Lawsuit Filed Against MLB

After refusing to be traded in 1969, Flood contacted his personal attorney, Marvin Miller (1917-2012), who founded and was the executive director of the Players Union. Flood discussed his reasons to Miller, stating that, "I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold." Miller told him that the courts leaned toward the owners and their monopoly in baseball. He didn't stand a chance in hell of winning. In the small chance that he did, he'd never play in MLB again.

Flood then asked if it would benefit other players, and Miller replied, "Yes, and then some." Flood said that was good enough. He then wrote to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who sympathized with him but stated it didn't apply to baseball.

On the trial day, only two former MLB players supported him, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg. All the other players were still afraid of retaliation from the owners.

The decision came in 1972, and Flood lost 5-3, but only because Judge Lewis Powell withdrew due to conflict of interest as he held stock in Anheuser-Busch, and the owner, Augie Bush, owned the St. Louis Cardinals. If Powell had stayed, Flood would have won. The court ruled that Flood should have the right to free agency, but baseball congress and free agency should be attained through collective bargaining.

At that point, Miller and the union bargained for arbitration of grievances. In 1976, pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally agreed to play without a contract for one season, and the arbitrator declared them free agents.

Overnight, the baseball system collapsed. Newspapers had a field day printing gloom and doom. But salaries skyrocketed, and fans welcomed free agency. Baseball would never be the same.

Flood Never Benefited

Flood never benefited from any of this. He lost his career as he was blackballed from baseball. He began receiving hate mail and death threats. Already on his way to being an alcoholic, being in debt, and being divorced, he left the United States and opened a bar in Spain. Unable to deal with all the problems and facing bankruptcy, he was admitted to a hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

His sister sent him money to return to the United States, and he attempted to repair his relationships with his children. He remarried an old girlfriend, Judy Pace, and they were together until he died. The relationships with his children were on the road to mending.

Curt Flood, St. Louis Cardinals

Curt Flood, St. Louis Cardinals

The Jackie Robinson Award

Flood received the Jackie Robinson Award in 1992 for his contributions to Black athletes. He received a standing ovation at a 1994 speech preaching solidarity to the players as they were preparing to strike. By 1995, Flood was diagnosed with throat cancer and was admitted to the hospital. It was the Players Association who covered all of Flood's medical bills. He died on January 20, 1997, with Jesse Jackson giving a eulogy. He said, "Baseball didn't change Flood, Flood changed baseball. He fought the good fight."

Congress enacted the Baseball Fans and Commissioners Protective Act in 1997. HB21 established federal antitrust protection for MLB.

In 2020, some 102 members of the U.S. Congress, with some signatures from the Players Associations of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLS, wrote to the Baseball of Fame asking Curt Flood to be inducted.

Miller was finally selected to the Hall of Fame in 2019 and was inducted in 2020, but he told MLB that if he was selected, he would not attend. He also said that if he were elected posthumously, his family would not attend. It had been too long coming. The powers of the committee had never been happy with Miller or Flood. Flood made it into the St. Louis Baseball Hall of Fame, but to this day he has been denied selection into Cooperstown. He is certainly deserving.

The Curt Flood Foundation, a non-profit organization, has been set up by his children so that his name and selfless contribution and sacrifices will never be forgotten.

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on April 04, 2021:

Rosina, thanks for your visit. I agree he should be in MLB Hall of Fame after sacrificing his career for other players.

Rosina S Khan on April 03, 2021:

I admire Curt Flood in spite of the pitfalls in his life. He really deserves to be in the MLB Hall of Fame. I appreciate his children setting up a non-profit foundation in his memory. Thanks for sharing this interesting account of a baseball player.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on April 03, 2021:

He needs to be in the Hall of Fame. Guys who "changed the game" or a wing like that. They put Marvin Miller in but this guy gave up his entire career to take a stand. How many of us would do that? Never made big money either . Made less than $500,000 in his entire career.

Thanks for helping to remember this very brave man.

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