Sunday, January 20, 2013

Curt Flood

At the end of the '69 baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded their long time centerfielder Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies.  At the time, backed by Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption, a player, regardless of how well he was paid, belonged forever to the team that owned his contract.  The team could trade him, and a player was obligated to go, his only other option was to retire.  In 1957, Jackie Robinson "retired" instead of accepting a trade to the hated Giants.

Flood told the Phillies he wasn't going to Philadelphia, not then, not now.  The Phils offered him a raise to $100,000 in the days when the average working man's salary was $18,000. Still he refused.  As Flood told broadcaster Howard Cosell "a well paid slave was still a slave".  

 In 1970 Flood went to court to challenge baseball's restrictive reserve clause.  Warned by everyone and his brother he hadn't a chance, Flood persisted, until the Supreme Court ruled against him ruling that free agency for players should be a matter of collective bargaining.  It cost Flood everything he had. All he would say is that he did it for those coming behind him.

Two years later  the right of a player to ask for binding arbitration for grievances became baseball's standard practice, free agency arrived in 1976 and is now the foundation of all sports labor contracts.  Flood didn't break down the wall, but certainly weakened it.  Professional sports authorities the world over owe Curt Flood monuments of thanksgiving for his sacrifice.  Instead he has largely been ignored.

Curt Flood died on this date in 1997, 2 days after his 59th birthday.


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