Source: New York Times
Few people know who Curt Flood is. If they do know who Flood is, it is usually as a baseball player who played 15 years for the Cincinnati Red Legs or the St. Louis Cardinals. He was the player who earned 2 World Series rings during the time frame of 1956 to 1971. But what most do not realize is Flood destroyed his career in a fight to what he believed to be a professional baseball injustice in 1969 known as the reserve clause.
The reserve clause, established under the Supreme Court ruling written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in professional sports contractually allows a team to retain the rights to an athlete once the initial contract has expired. In other words, a team can reassign, trade, sell, or release a player whenever it chooses to do so. A player was the property of a team for life during the early years of professional sports. During Flood’s tenure in Major League Baseball, the reserve clause continued to be standard practice. But when Flood was traded to the Phillies and decided he didn’t want to go, he sought the help of his personal attorney and Marvin Miller, founder of the MLBPA, in suing MLB.
Flood’s argument was the owners held a monopoly and were restricting trade. While Flood knew he wouldn’t benefit from his fight, he knew others would. He took the owners by himself with the support of only two others colleagues, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg. Flood lost his suit 5-3 despite the Court agreeing with his argument due to baseball’s antitrust exemption stating it would take an act of Congress remove the exemption.
Congress did act in 1976 removing antitrust exemption for baseball and all other professional sports. Today, athletes enjoy free agency due to Curt Flood . . . proof that one person can change the world. Or in the words of Reverend Jesse Jackson, “Baseball didn’t change Curt Flood. Curt Flood changed baseball. He fought the good fight. “