Curt Flood: The Forgotten Free Agent

provided by The Third City

provided by The Third City

James Kay, Sports Editor

For this week’s Black History Month athlete in focus, I will be profiling an athlete who has fallen off the radar despite being one of the most important figures in sports history. Without Curtis Charles Flood, the business aspect of Major League Baseball would not be where it is now.

In 1969, Curt Flood had built up an impressive baseball resume. He had spent 12 years with the St. Louis Cardinals and was a consistent offensive force. During his tenure with the Cards, Flood won seven golden gloves, made three all-star appearances, and won two World Series titles. His .987 fielding percentage is still held in high regard and he was considered to be one of the best defensive center fielders of his time.

After the 1969 season, Flood was traded from the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. This did not sit well with Flood since he had no say in the matter. At this time, there wasn’t a free agency system, which allows players to negotiate with other teams and gives them the freedom to control their baseball career. Players in this era signed lifetime contracts,  referred to as the reserve clause, which gave the owners all the power to trade players away and take the reigns of the business aspect of the game. So when Flood refused to go to the Phillies, everyone turned their attention towards the situation. The only significant protest to unfair wages and agency over players’ rights was with the 1919 Chicago Black Sox who threw away the World Series, since their owner wouldn’t pay them as much money as the people who set up the scandal.

Flood immediately hired a lawyer and sued Major League Baseball for not giving him the right to negotiate with other teams. Going into the trial, Flood was told by his lawyer that he did not have a strong chance of winning the case since the owners had a long history of coming out on top. This did not stop Flood from pursuing the case, and he knew that if he had won he probably would not be signed by another team. This was much bigger than his future career with baseball. He knew the importance of the player’s right to choose their career path and not be imprisoned by the history of baseball owner’s dominance over their players.

Flood had few supporters. The players were scared that if they publicly sided with Flood that their owners would terminate their contracts and ruin their baseball careers in the process. The only two stars that were on Flood’s side were Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg and they were no longer in the league at that point. Flood eventually lost the case but he started a revolution.

After years of the players union protesting the owners’ complete control over them, the free agency idea was finally underway. In 1975, two players played without signing a contract and an arbitrator ruled them as free agents. This forced owners to accept free agency and the concept of it spread throughout the sports world. Not only did the players had the choice to pick the teams they wanted to sign with, they also were getting paid more since teams would fight to sign them on their team.

Unfortunately Flood was not able to take advantage of what he had influenced. After he lost the case to Major League Baseball, teams refused to sign him as a way of shaming him for questioning the system. Once a perennial All-Star, he turned into a lost figure in baseball history since he is not someone who people recognize when talking about sports heroes. He did get some recognition in 1992 when he received the Jackie Robinson Award but that came 23 years after Flood had been unofficially banished from baseball. Though his personal achievements go unnoticed, Curt Flood’s efforts to fight for players rights is something that shouldn’t be forgotten as he paved the way for future stars and the salaries they deserved.