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Curt Flood

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Curt Flood

A photo of Curt Flood.

Curtis Charles Flood (January 18, 1938–January 20, 1997) was a Major League Baseball player who spent most of his career as a center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. A defensive standout, he led the National League in putouts four times and in fielding percentage twice, winning Gold Glove Awards in his last seven full seasons from 1963–1969. He also batted over .300 six times, and led the NL in hits (211) in 1964. He retired with the third most games in center field (1683) in NL history, trailing only Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn.

Flood became one of the pivotal figures in the sport's labor history when he refused to accept a trade following the 1969 season, ultimately appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although his legal challenge was unsuccessful, it brought about additional solidarity among players as they fought against baseball's reserve clause and sought free agency.

Playing careerEdit

Born in Houston, Texas and raised in Oakland, California, Flood played in the same high school outfield with Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. Flood signed with the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956, and made a handful of appearances for the team in 1956–57 before being traded to the Cardinals in December 1957. For the next twelve seasons he became a fixture in center field for St. Louis; although he struggled at the plate from 1958–1960, his defensive skill was apparent. He had his breakthrough year after Johnny Keane took over as manager in 1961, batting .322, and followed by hitting .296 in 1962 with 12 home runs. He continued to improve offensively in 1963, hitting .302 and scoring a career-high 112 runs, third most in the NL; he also had career bests in doubles (34), triples (9) and stolen bases (17), and collected 200 hits in an NL-leading 662 at bats. In that year he received the first of his seven consecutive Gold Gloves.[1]

He earned his first All-Star selection in 1964 while leading the NL in hits and batting .311. His 679 at bats led the NL again and were the fifth highest total in league history to that point, setting a team record by surpassing Taylor Douthit's 1930 total of 664; Lou Brock broke the team record three years later with 689. He also had a league-leading 211 hits. Batting leadoff in the 1964 World Series against the New York Yankees, he hit only .200 but scored in three of the Cardinal victories as the team won in seven games for its first championship since 1946. In 1965 Flood had his greatest power output, with 11 home runs and 83 runs batted in while hitting .310. He made the All-Star team again in 1966, a season in which he did not commit an error in the outfield; his record errorless streaks of 226 games (NL record) and 568 total chances (major league record) ran from September 3, 1965 to June 4, 1967.

In 1967 he had his highest batting mark with a .335 average, though his other batting totals fell off from previous years, in helping the Cardinals to another championship. In the 1967 World Series against the Boston Red Sox he hit a woeful .179, but made some crucial contributions. In Game 1, he advanced Brock to third base twice, putting him in position to score both runs in a 2–1 victory; in Game 3, he drove in Brock with the first run of a 5–2 win. As team co-captain (with Tim McCarver) in 1968 he had perhaps his best year, earning his third All-Star selection and finishing fourth in the MVP balloting (won by teammate Bob Gibson) on the strength of a .301 batting average and 186 base hits. Against the San Francisco Giants that year, Flood was involved in the final outs of the first back-to-back no-hitters in Major League history. On September 17 he struck out for the final out of Gaylord Perry's 1-0 gem. The next day, he caught Willie McCovey's fly ball for the final out of Ray Washburn's 2-0 no-hitter.[2][3] Had he not notably misjudged a Jim Northrup fly ball (ruled a triple) with two out in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, the Cardinals might have won their third championship of the decade; Detroit scored twice on the play, with Northrup later coming in for a 3-0 lead, and won the game 4-1. Up to that point Flood had been enjoying the best Series of his career, despite dealing with personal problems at home,[4] hitting .286 with three steals.

In 1969, despite the lower pitching mound instituted that season which saw a general rise in batting average league wide, Flood's batting average slipped to .285. His brother was arrested during the season, and he participated in a couple of public confrontations with Cardinals' management. Early in the season his conflict with the Cardinals involved his desire for a $100,000 salary[4]. Late in the season he publicly criticized the team for reorganizing the team before they were officially eliminated. He received his seventh Gold Glove this season, just as other events in his career began to affect the entire sport.

Flood collected the first hit in a Major League regular season game in Canada. He doubled off Montreal Expos pitcher Larry Jaster in the first inning of the Expos' inaugural home game, on April 14, 1969 at Jarry Park. (Jaster, a Cardinal teammate of Flood's just the year before, had been selected by the Expos in the expansion draft.)

Challenge of the reserve clauseEdit

Despite his outstanding playing career, Flood's principal legacy developed off the field. He believed that Major League Baseball's decades-old reserve clause was unfair in that it kept players beholden for life to the team with whom they originally signed, even when they had satisfied the terms and conditions of those contracts.

On October 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, outfielder Byron Browne, and left-handed pitcher Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for first baseman Dick Allen, second baseman Cookie Rojas, and right-handed pitcher Jerry Johnson. However, Flood refused to report to the moribund Phillies, citing the team's poor record and the fact that they played in dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium before belligerent – and, Flood believed, racist – fans. Some reports say he was also irritated that he had learned of the trade from a reporter,[5] but Flood's autobiography says he learned of the trade from mid-level Cardinals management and he was angry that the call did not come from the general manager.[6] He forfeited a relatively lucrative $100,000 contract by his refusal to be traded, and consulted with players' union head Marvin Miller.[7] He also met with Phillies general manager John Quinn, who left the meeting with the belief that he had convinced Flood to report to the team.[6] After being advised that the union was prepared to pay the costs of the lawsuit, he chose to proceed.[1]

In a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood demanded that the commissioner declare him a free agent:

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.[1][6]

Flood v. KuhnEdit

Main article: Flood v. Kuhn

Commissioner Kuhn denied his request, citing the propriety of the reserve clause and its inclusion in Flood's 1969 contract. In response, Flood filed a $1 million lawsuit (which would be automatically tripled under the Sherman Act) against Kuhn and Major League Baseball on January 16, 1970, alleging that Major League Baseball had violated federal antitrust laws.[citation needed] Even though Flood was making $90,000 at the time,[8] he likened the reserve clause to slavery; it was a controversial analogy, even among those who opposed the reserve clause.[citation needed] Among those testifying on his behalf were former players Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, and former owner Bill Veeck; no active players testified, nor did any attend the trial. Although the player representatives had voted unanimously to support the suit, rank-and-file players were strongly divided, with many fervently supporting the management position.[1]

The case, Flood v. Kuhn (407 U.S. 258), eventually went to the Supreme Court. Flood's attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, asserted that the reserve clause depressed wages and limited players to one team for life. Major League Baseball's counsel countered that Commissioner Kuhn acted in the way he did "for the good of the game."[citation needed]

Ultimately, the Supreme Court, acting on stare decisis "to stand by things decided", ruled 5–3 in favor of Major League Baseball, upholding a 1922 ruling in the case of Federal Baseball Club v. National League (259 U.S. 200). Justice Lewis Powell did not participate in the case due to his ownership of stock in Anheuser-Busch, which owned the Cardinals.[1]

Aftermath and post-baseball lifeEdit

Flood sat out the entire 1970 season.[1] Eventually, the Cardinals were forced to give up two minor leaguers to the Phillies in compensation for Flood's refusal to report, one of whom – center fielder Willie Montañez – went on to have a 14-year career. Meanwhile, in November 1970 Flood was sent by the Phillies to the Washington Senators in a five-player trade, and signed a $110,000 contract with Washington. He ended his career with 13 games for the Senators in 1971, in which he batted only .200 and had lackluster play in center field. Former teammate Gibson later wrote that Flood once returned to his locker to find a funeral wreath on it. Despite manager Ted Williams' vote of confidence, Flood retired. He had a lifetime batting average of .293 with 1861 hits, 85 home runs, 851 runs and 636 RBI.

Later that year, Flood wrote an apologetic and defensive[4] autobiography entitled The Way It Is. He also indulged in his love of painting. Ultimately, the reserve clause was struck down in 1975, when arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that since pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played for one season without a contract, they could become free agents. This decision essentially dismantled the reserve clause and opened the door to widespread free agency. Seitz's decision was based on the vague wording of the reserve clause in the standard players' contract, and Flood's unsuccessful challenge had little or no bearing on the ruling.

Shortly after his retirement, Flood owned a bar in the Spanish resort town of Palma de Mallorca where he moved to escape from bankruptcy of his Curt Flood Associates business, from two lawsuits, and from an IRS lien on a home he bought for his mother[4]. He eventually returned to baseball as part of the Oakland Athletics' broadcasting team in 1978. He was also the commissioner of the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1988.[1]

In his spare time, Flood painted. His 1989 oil portrait of Joe DiMaggio sold at auction for $9,500.[9]

Flood stopped smoking in 1979, and drinking in 1986, despite having been a heavy drinker and smoker for years. Diagnosed with throat cancer in 1995, Flood was originally given a 90% chance of survival, but Flood died in Los Angeles, California at his home. Flood was survived by his five children, Debbie, Gary, Shelly, Scott and Curt Flood Jr., a wife, actress Judy Pace and her two daughters.[10] Flood was interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood California.

His legacy was remembered in Congress via a bill, the Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1997;[11] numbered HR 21 (Flood's Cardinals uniform number) and introduced on the first day of the 105th Congress in 1997 by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan), removing baseball's controversial antitrust exemption with regards to labor. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced similar legislation in the Senate that year, called the Curt Flood Act of 1998 (SB 53).[12]

Curt Flood is also a non-participating but pivotal character in the book Our Gang by Philip Roth.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Pietrusza, David; Matthew Silverman; Gershman, Michael (2000). Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Total Sports, 364–366.
  2. Pankin, Mark. Retrosheet Boxscore: San Francisco Giants 1, St. Louis Cardinals 0. Retrieved on June 6, 2009.
  3. Pankin, Mark. Retrosheet Boxscore: St. Louis Cardinals 2, San Francisco Giants 0. Retrieved on June 6, 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Weiss, Stuart L. (2007). The Curt Flood Story: The Man Behind the Myth. University of Missouri Press.
  5. Snyder, Brad (2006). A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. Viking Adult, 472.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Carter, Richard D.; Flood, Curt (1971). The way it is. New York: Trident Press, 236.
  7. Lupien, Tony; Lowenfish, Lee (1980). The imperfect diamond: the story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it. New York: Stein and Day, 207–221.
  8. Durso, Joseph. "Curt Flood Is Dead at 59; Outfielder Defied Baseball", The New York Times, January 21, 1997. Retrieved on 2008-02-28.
  9. "Items For The Auction of May 19th & 20th, 2006" 25 February 2010
  10. Hodges, Jim (22 January 1997). Flood Funeral Set for Monday in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times.
  11. Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1997. THOMAS. Library of Congress (January 7, 1997). Retrieved on July 6, 2009.
  12. Senate Report 105-118 - CURT FLOOD ACT OF 1997. THOMAS. Library of Congress (July 31, 1997). Retrieved on July 6, 2009.
  • Flynn, Neil F. (2006). Baseball's Reserve System: The Case and Trial of Curt Flood v. Major League Baseball. Springfield, IL: Walnut Park Group.

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