In Major League Baseball there has been a long ignored hero who helped make the game the way it is today. It’s why today’s stars like Albert Pujols can bolt from St. Louis to Los Angeles and get a million dollar pay raise along the way. It wasn’t Jackie Robinson or Roberto Clemente although they both did bring the game into the future. Its also certainly not any of the greats like Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. It was All-Star centerfielder Curt Flood. He was famous in his day and a fine ballplayer but his legacy in baseball went far beyond that. In 1969 Curt Flood was traded from the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, and he refused to go. Flood sued for his rights and then came one of the biggest workers rights cases in baseball history, as Flood challenged the rules of major league baseball.
Curt Flood sued Major League Baseball and likened the way that baseball treats its players to the institution of slavery. Baseball had the Reserve Clause which basically kept a person on one team his entire career unless traded or released. Baseball players never saw the open market like they see today. Players like my personal heroes, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg testified on behalf of Curt Flood and the players union backed him up. In terms of the league the only help he had was from the brass of the MLB Players Association. Allies like Marvin Miller helped further his case but no active player would join him in the fight do to the fear of being blackballed out of the league, Curt Flood was giving his moderately successful baseball career for his rights as an employee of Major League Baseball. Flood felt betrayed by the team he had played 12 years with and didn’t want to uproot his life to play in Philadelphia. He also cited Philly fans racist background as more reason he didn’t want to go.
Curt Flood lost his case in front of the U.S Supreme Court in a 5-3 (5-3 because one judge removed himself because he owned a stake in Anheuser-Busch which owned a piece of the Cardinals) but baseball did end up changing its rules. In future union negotiations the reserve clause was shortened so that players could leave their teams after certain amount of time and the 10/5 rule allowed veterans who were on a team for five years to not get traded without consent. Flood was blackballed from playing in the MLB again. In 1998 the Curt Flood Act passed congress and broke up pieces of baseball’s monopoly. It stooped owners from controlling players entire careers.
In the end Curt Flood’s fight for player’s rights is a fight unprecedented as he put his career on the line for meaningful change that eventually came. His Eulogy by Rev. Jesse Jackson said “Baseball didn’t change Curt Flood. Curt Flood changed baseball.” So as baseball enters the off-season and you see guys fight for multi-million dollar contracts, keep Curt Flood in your mind. He helped changed the game we all love, for the better.