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On This Date in Sports December 24, 1969: Curt Flood's Fight

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

“I do not fee that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” Those were the words Curt Flood penned in a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Flood was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies and was refusing to accept the deal. Flood would begin a three-year fight with Kuhn that he would lose but set the stage for the end of the reserve clause and start of free agency.

Curt Flood was born on January 18, 1938, in Houston, Texas, and raised in Oakland, California, where he played on the same high school team as Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson. In 1956 he signed his first professional contract and made his debut with the Cincinnati Redlegs. After playing just eight games in his first two seasons with Cincinnati, Curt Flood was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1958. Flood became a fixture in centerfield for the Cardinals, making it to the All-Star Game three times, and winning seven gold gloves.

Despite being the top defensive outfielder in the National League at the time, Curt Flood is known for a misplay in the 1968 World Series that helped the Detroit Tigers beat the Cardinals in Game 7 at Busch Stadium. The following spring Curt Flood and the rest of the Cardinals were chewed out by owner Gussie Busch for losing the World Series. The Cardinals would have a disappointing season in 1969, leading to management making changes.

On October 8, 1969, Curt Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies along with Tim McCarver, Byrone Browne, and Joe Horne. The Cardinals received Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson, and Cookie Rojas in return. Flood stated right from the start that he would refuse to play in Philadelphia. Flood’s reasoning for refusing to accept the trade, where the Phillies’ lack of competitiveness, the dilapidated condition of Connie Mack Stadium, and the reputation of Philadelphia fans for being racist and belligerent. Despite meetings with the Phillies General Manager John Quinn and an offer for $100,000 salary, Flood remained steadfast in his refusal to play for the Phillies.

Looking to be made a free agent, Curt Flood penned a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on Christmas Eve that read.

December 24, 1969

After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.

It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.

 

Curt Flood sought to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, which made players property of their teams as long as the team wanted them and gave them no say in trades or moves of any kind. Flood received support for the Players’ Association and their leader Marvin Miller who helped provide monetary support while Flood held out during the 1970 season. The Cardinals would later send Willie Montanez and a minor leaguer to complete the trade to make for Curt Flood’s refusal to play.

As the fight wound its way to the courts, the Phillies traded Curt Flood to the Washington Senators in 1971. Flood would play just 13 games in Washington as he ended up sacrificing his career to fight for the right to be a free agent. As his career ended in Washington, the fight continued to the Supreme Court. He had Jackie Robinson, Hank Greenberg, and Bill Veeck testify on his behalf, but no active players came forward. In the end, Flood v Kuhn would be decided in favor of the owners 5-3 on June 19, 1972, but several justices expressed regret for their decision.

Curt Flood was unsuccessful in his battle, but the reserve clause was damaged. By the time the case was decided, the players had won binding arbitration in contracts. This ultimately would lead to free agency and the end of the reserve clause four years later.