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The BASEBALL RELIQUARY Inc.


THE SHRINE OF THE ETERNALS

1999 ELECTEES

 

CURTIS CHARLES FLOOD

Born 1/18/38, Houston, Texas

Died 1/20/97, Los Angeles, California

 

Curt Flood was as crucial to the economic rights of ballplayers as Jackie Robinson was to breaking the color barrier. A three-time All-Star and seven-time winner of the Gold Glove for his defensive prowess in center field, Flood hit more than .300 six times during a 15-year major league career that began in 1956. Twelve of those seasons were spent wearing the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals. After the 1969 season, the Cardinals attempted to trade Flood, then 31 years of age, to the Philadelphia Phillies, which set in motion his historic challenge of baseball’s infamous "reserve clause." The reserve clause was that part of the standard player’s contract which bound the player, one year at a time, in perpetuity to the club owning his contract. Flood had no interest in moving to Philadelphia, a city he had always viewed as racist ("the nation’s northernmost southern city"), but more importantly, he objected to being treated as a piece of property and to the restriction of freedom embedded in the reserve clause.

Flood was fully aware of the social relevance of his rebellion against the baseball establishment. Years later, he explained, "I guess you really have to understand who that person, who that Curt Flood was. I’m a child of the sixties, I’m a man of the sixties. During that period of time this country was coming apart at the seams. We were in Southeast Asia. Good men were dying for America and for the Constitution. In the southern part of the United States we were marching for civil rights and Dr. King had been assassinated, and we lost the Kennedys. And to think that merely because I was a professional baseball player, I could ignore what was going on outside the walls of Busch Stadium was truly hypocrisy and now I found that all of those rights that these great Americans were dying for, I didn’t have in my own profession."

With the backing of the Players Association and with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg arguing on his behalf, Flood pursued the case known as Flood v. Kuhn (Commissioner Bowie Kuhn) from January 1970 to June 1972 at district, circuit, and Supreme Court levels. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Flood, upholding baseball’s exemption from antitrust statutes, the case set the stage for the 1975 Messersmith-McNally rulings and the advent of free agency.

The financial and emotional costs to Flood as a result of his unprecedented challenge of the reserve clause were enormous. Flood’s major league career (his 1970 salary would have been $100,000) effectively ended with his legal action, and he traveled to Europe, spending much of his time there painting and writing, attempting to deal with the pain and frustration of being away from the game he loved. In 1970, prior to the Supreme Court decision, Flood published his autobiography, The Way It Is, a riveting book which forcefully outlined his moral and legal objections to baseball’s reserve system. Flood’s impassioned literary account of his life is now considered an essential text in the history of the baseball labor movement.

At the memorial service for Curt Flood, who died of throat cancer in 1997 at the age of 59, dozens of former ballplayers gathered at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles to pay tribute to a man whose sacrifice made him not merely a hero, but a martyr. One mourner compared Flood’s social legacy to that of Rosa Parks, while former player Tito Fuentes wondered why the current generation of baseball’s multi-millionaires did not attend the service to pay their respect. "He was a great man," Fuentes remarked as he passed by Flood’s casket. "I’m sorry that so many of the young players who made millions, who benefited from his fight, are not here. They should be here."

Former executive director of the Major League Players Association, Marvin Miller, said, "At the time Curt Flood decided to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, he was perhaps the sport’s premier center fielder. And yet he chose to fight an injustice, knowing that even if by some miracle he won, his career as a professional player would be over. At no time did he waver in his commitment and determination. He had experienced something that was inherently unfair and was determined to right the wrong, not so much for himself, but for those who would come after him. Few praised him for this, then or now. There is no Hall of Fame for people like Curt."

That is, until now . . . . and the Baseball Reliquary is honored to have Curt Flood in its first class of electees to the Shrine of the Eternals.


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