Curt Flood

Curtis Charles Flood (January 18, 1938 – January 20, 1997) was an American professional baseball player and activist.[1][2][3] He was a center fielder who played 15 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Cincinnati Redlegs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Washington Senators. Flood was a three-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner for seven consecutive seasons, and batted over .300 in six seasons.[4] He led the National League (NL) in hits (211) in 1964 and in singles, 1963, 1964, and 1968. Flood also led the National League in putouts as center fielder four times and in fielding percentage as center fielder three times. He retired with the third most games in center field (1683) in NL history, trailing Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn.

Curt Flood
Flood with the Cardinals
Center fielder
Born: (1938-01-18)January 18, 1938
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Died: January 20, 1997(1997-01-20) (aged 59)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 9, 1956, for the Cincinnati Redlegs
Last MLB appearance
April 25, 1971, for the Washington Senators
MLB statistics
Batting average.293
Home runs85
Runs batted in636
Career highlights and awards

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.[5] 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.

Early years

Born in Houston, Texas, and raised in Oakland, California,[6] Flood played in the same outfield in West Oakland's McClymonds High School as Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. All three would eventually sign professional contracts with the Cincinnati Reds.[7] Flood transferred to Oakland Technical High School, from which he graduated.

MLB career

Flood signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 and made a handful of appearances for the team in 1956–57. However, Flood was deemed expendable with future star centerfielder Vada Pinson preparing to be promoted to the majors. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 1957.[8] For the next 12 seasons, he became a fixture in center field for St. Louis; although he struggled at the plate from 1958 to 1960, his defensive skill was apparent. He had his breakthrough year at the plate after Johnny Keane took over as manager in 1961: he batted .322, followed by .296 in 1962 with 11 home runs. He continued to improve offensively in 1963, hitting .302 and scoring a career-high 112 runs, third-most in the NL; he also had career bests in doubles (34), triples (9) and stolen bases (17) and collected 200 hits in an NL-leading 662 at bats. In that year he received the first of his seven consecutive Gold Gloves.[9]

Flood in 1957.

He earned his first All-Star selection in 1964. He batted .311. His 679 at-bats led the NL again and were the fifth-highest total in league history to that point, setting a team record by surpassing Taylor Douthit's 1930 total of 664; Lou Brock broke the team record three years later with 689. He tied for tops in hits with The Pittsburgh Pirates' Roberto Clemente with 211.[10] Batting leadoff in the World Series against the New York Yankees, he hit only .200 but scored in three of the Cardinal victories as the team won in seven games for its first championship since 1946. In 1965, Flood had his greatest power output with 11 home runs and 83 runs batted in while he was hitting .310. He made the All-Star team again in 1966, a season in which he did not commit a single error in the outfield; his record errorless streak of 226 games (NL record for an outfielder[11]) and 568 total chances (major league record) ran from September 3, 1965, to June 4, 1967.

In 1967, he had his highest batting mark with a .335 average (though his other batting totals fell off from previous years), helping the Cardinals to another championship. In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, he hit a woeful .179 but made some crucial contributions. In game 1, he advanced Brock to third base twice, putting him in position to score both runs in a 2–1 victory; in game 3, he drove Brock in with the first run of a 5–2 win. As team co-captain (with Tim McCarver) in 1968 he had perhaps his best year, earning his third All-Star selection and finishing fourth in the MVP balloting (won by teammate Bob Gibson) on the strength of a .301 batting average and 186 base hits. Against the San Francisco Giants that year, Flood was involved in the final outs of the first back-to-back no-hitters in major league history. On September 17, he struck out for the final out of Gaylord Perry's 1–0 gem. The next day, he caught Willie McCovey's fly ball for the final out of Ray Washburn's 2–0 no-hitter.[12][13] Had he not momentarily lost his footing chasing a Jim Northrup fly ball (ruled a triple) with two out in the seventh inning of game 7 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, the Cardinals might have won their third championship of the decade; Detroit scored twice on the play, with Northrup later coming in for a 3–0 lead, and won the game, 4–1. Up to that point, Flood had been enjoying the best series of his career despite dealing with personal problems at home,[14] hitting .286 with three steals.

After the season ended, Flood was upset when Cardinals' president Gussie Busch, and CEO of team owner Anheuser-Busch, offered him only a $5,000 raise, far short of the $90,000 salary he believed he deserved after his stellar regular season. He believed Busch, with whom he had previously enjoyed a close personal friendship, was expressing his displeasure over the error that had likely cost the team the Series. While Busch eventually relented, Flood took it personally when Busch publicly chewed the team out after most players boycotted spring training before the 1969 season for a week, accusing players of forgetting that fans were what kept the sport going (although he did not mention any player by name).[15]

In 1969, despite the lower pitching mound instituted that season, which saw a general rise in batting average league-wide, Flood's batting average slipped to .285. His brother was arrested during the season.[14] Late in the season, he publicly criticized the team for reorganizing before they were officially eliminated. He received his seventh Gold Glove that season just as other events in his career began to affect the entire sport. Flood collected the first hit in a major league regular-season game in Canada. He doubled off Montreal Expos pitcher Larry Jaster in the first inning of the Expos' inaugural home game on April 14 at Jarry Park. (Jaster, a Cardinal teammate of Flood's the year before, had been selected by the Expos in the expansion draft.)

Challenging the reserve clause

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine's letter to Flood, informing him that he had been traded to the Phillies.
Flood's letter to Bowie Kuhn in December 1969. Flood states, "I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes." He then states that the Phillies have offered him a contract, but "I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions."

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 which they originally signed, even when they had satisfied the terms and conditions of those contracts.

On October 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded Flood, Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, and Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson. Flood refused to report to the moribund Phillies, citing the team's poor record and dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium, and for what he alleged were belligerentand racistfans. Flood said, "That I didn't think that I was going to report to Philadelphia, mainly because I didn't want to pick up twelve years of my life and move to another city."[16] Some reports say he was also irritated that he had learned of the trade from a reporter;[17] but Flood wrote in his autobiography that he was told by midlevel Cardinals management and was angry that the call did not come from the general manager,[18] further alienating him from Busch.[15] He met with Phillies' general manager John Quinn, who left the meeting believing that he had persuaded Flood to report to the team.[18] Flood stood to forfeit a lucrative $100,000 (equivalent to $697,772 in 2021)[19] contract if he did not report; but after a meeting with players' union head Marvin Miller,[20] who informed him that the union was prepared to fund a lawsuit, he decided to pursue his legal options.[9]

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.[9][18]

Flood was influenced by the events of the 1960s that took place in the United States. According to Marvin Miller, Flood told the executive board of the players' union, "I think the change in black consciousness in recent years has made me more sensitive to injustice in every area of my life." However, he added that he was challenging the reserve clause primarily as a major league ballplayer.[21]

Flood v. Kuhn

Commissioner Kuhn denied Flood's request for free agency, citing the propriety of the reserve clause and its inclusion in Flood's 1969 contract. On January 16, 1970, Flood filed a $1 million lawsuit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball, alleging violation of federal antitrust laws.[22] Flood likened the reserve clause to slavery.[23][6] 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 players' union representatives had voted unanimously to support Flood, rank-and-file players were strongly divided, with many avid supporters of the management position.[9]

Flood v. Kuhn (407 U.S. 258) was argued before the Supreme Court on March 20, 1972.[24][25][26] 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, Louis Hoynes, countered that if Flood won his case, "it would be a shambles."[27] On June 19, 1972, the Supreme Court, invoking the principle of stare decisis ("to stand by things decided"), ruled 5–3 in favor of Major League Baseball,[28][29][30] citing as precedent a 1922 ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League (259 U.S. 200). Justice Lewis Powell recused himself owing to his ownership of stock in Anheuser-Busch, which owned the Cardinals.[9]

Despite the loss in the Supreme Court, the baseball player's union continued to push to eliminate the reserve clause. It was finally struck down in December 1975 in a case involving players Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith. In July 1976, the union and the baseball team owners agreed to a contract that included free agency.[31]

In 1998, the federal government passed the Curt Flood Act of 1998.[32][33] The act, passed by the 105th Congress and signed into law by President Clinton, revokes baseball's antitrust status (save for expansion, minor leagues, and franchise relocation), a status that major league baseball had enjoyed for seventy-five years after the Supreme Court had ruled that baseball was eligible for the status under interstate commerce.[34] This act did exactly what Flood wanted; it stopped owners from controlling the players' contracts and careers.

Flood also helped bring about the 10/5 Rule, also known as the Curt Flood Rule. The rule states that when a player has played for a team for five straight years and played in MLB for a total of ten years, they have to give the club their consent to be traded.[35]

Aftermath and post-baseball life

Final years in baseball

After Flood's lawsuit failed, Flood was blackballed from baseball. There were questions similar to "Do you realize you won't be able to play in MLB ever again?" or "You realize you are going to lose your job?" Everyone Flood consulted was convinced he would be blackballed from baseball. Flood soon realized that his career was over as he later said,

It would be difficult to come back. And besides, I don't think I'll be getting the opportunity to play again. As big as it is, baseball is a closely-knit unit. I doubt even one of the 24 men controlling the game would touch me with a ten-foot pole. You can't buck the Establishment.[36]

Flood sat out the entire 1970 season.[9] During this period he was bombarded with hate mail from fans, who accused him of trying to destroy baseball; his teammate Bob Gibson estimated "He got four or five death threats a day."[2] The Cardinals sent two minor leaguers to the Phillies in compensation for Flood's refusal to report. One of themcenterfielder Willie Montañezwent on to a 14-year major league career. In November 1970, the Phillies traded Flood and four other players to the Washington Senators. He signed a $110,000 contract with Washington but played only thirteen games of the 1971 season, with a .200 batting average and lackluster play in center field. Despite manager Ted Williams's vote of confidence, Flood left the team in late April and retired.[37][38][39] He had a lifetime batting average of .293 with 1,861 hits, 85 home runs, 851 runs, and 636 RBI. Defensively, Flood posted a .987 fielding percentage in his major-league career.[40] Later that year Flood published a memoir entitled The Way It Is in which he spelled out in detail his argument against the reserve clause.[14]


After his retirement, Flood purchased a bar in the resort town of Palma on the island of Majorca, where he had moved in the wake of the bankruptcy of his Curt Flood Associates business, two lawsuits, and an IRS lien on a home he bought for his mother.[14] He returned to baseball as a member of the Oakland Athletics broadcasting team in 1978. In 1988 he was named commissioner of the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association.[9] In the mid-1990s, he joined the management group of the United Baseball League (UBL), which was envisioned as a smaller alternative to MLB. While the group negotiated a long-term TV contract with Liberty Media, the deal (and the UBL) failed when Liberty was absorbed by MLB contractor Fox Sports.[41] In his spare time, he painted; his 1989 oil portrait of Joe DiMaggio sold at auction for $9,500 in 2006.[42]

Death and legacy

On January 20, 1997, just two days after his 59th birthday, Flood died at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, after developing pneumonia,[6][43][44][45] and was interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood.[46]

Just before his death, Flood's legacy was acknowledged in Congress in 1997 via the Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1997.[47] Numbered HR 21 (Flood's Cardinals uniform number) and introduced in the House of Representatives on the first day of the 105th Congress by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (DMichigan), the legislation established federal antitrust law protection for major league baseball players to the same extent as provided for other professional athletes.

Curt Flood is a nonparticipating but pivotal character in the book Our Gang by Philip Roth.[48]

Flood's struggle for free agency was featured in Ken Burns' documentary series Baseball in 1994. He was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 1999.[49]

In 2020, 102 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame, co-signed by Players' unions from the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLS, asking the Hall of Fame to admit Flood.[31]

Personal life and health

The gravesite of Curt Flood.

Flood was married twice and had five children. His first marriage was to Beverly Collins from 1959 until 1966, and together they had five children; Debbie, Gary, Shelly, Scott, and Curt Flood, Jr. Flood later married actress Judy Pace in 1986, whom he had met and dated previously from 1966 until 1970. They remained married until his death.[50] Diagnosed with throat cancer in 1995, Flood was initially given a 90–95 percent chance of survival. He underwent radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and throat surgery, which left him unable to speak.[51]

See also

  • List of St. Louis Cardinals team records


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  3. Dreier, Peter (August 27, 2021). "The Ballplayer Who Fought for Free Agency". The Nation. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  4. Leggett, William (August 19, 1968). "Not just a Flood, but a deluge". Sports Illustrated. p. 18.
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  15. Knoedelseder, William (2012). Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser–Busch and America's Kings of Beer. HarperCollins. pp. 109–113. ISBN 978-0-06-200927-2.
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  19. 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
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  27. "Baseball Called Guilty of Antitrust Violation". Philadelphia Inquirer. March 21, 1972. p. 29.
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  33. Pub. L. 105–297 (text) (PDF) (112 Stat. 2824, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 26 and notes to 15 U.S.C. § 1).
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  46. Baseball Necrology
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