We should be talking about pitchers and catches reporting for duty in Arizona and Florida and be ramping up for Major League Baseball. But instead we are talking about a lockout that does not really have an end in sight.
So I thought it would be a great time to talk about one of sports most unsung heroes that does not get enough credit. Today’s black history hero. Curt Flood.
Curt Flood is known for one thing, which is challenging baseball’s reserve clause, which eventually lead to free agency. But before he stood up against the institution of baseball he was one of the best players in the league.
Curt Flood won seven straight Golden Glove awards, which is an award for the most outstanding fielder at their position. He also set a record for consecutive games without an error for an outfielder.
Flood was a center fielder which most critics consider the position on the field that requires the most athletic person on your roster to cover. The center fielder also has to be a leader in the outfielder and decides many times which fielder will cover a baseball hit out to the outfield or deep in the infield.
Flood was one of the best and for most of his career he was soft spoken, outside of stealing runs from teams because of his defense.
Let’s talk about a little bit about what Curt Flood fought against. In baseball at this time the late 60’s, team owners put something into every player’s contract.
This was called the reserve clause. It gave club owners and general managers the ability to automatically renew the contract of an athlete until they retired or unless the player was traded.
What triggered Flood was that he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969. Flood went to the newly minted director of MLB Players Union Marvin Miller to fight the reserve clause.
Flood was warned that it would adversely affect his career, but all he cared about was that if he prevailed it would help baseball players for generations to come.
The intent to fight the reserve clause by Miller, and Flood was sealed with a letter to the MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The first line of the letter spoke volumes to the man Flood was.
It read “I do not feel that I’m a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” This letter would then turn into a lawsuit against the league.
The lawsuit would make it all the way to the Supreme Court. More or less the lawsuit was to challenge Major League Baseball’s anti-trust exemption.
The exemption has never actually been overturned, but what happened was baseball began to be covered by the National Labor Relations Board. This eventually evolved into a few players not playing under the automatically renewed contracts.
After that the system would eventually evolve into free agency. Now baseball players move around all the time and are negotiating guaranteed deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Many families including many of families of color now have access to generational wealth due to the sacrifice and activism of Curt Flood.
So while players and team owners now are at the table fighting over the next labor deal. Today is a good day to remember one of the previous victories by the players, to be able to control one’s baseball destiny and sign where they want.
Thanks Curt Flood, a history noted in baseball history on and off the field.