clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Looking back on Curt Flood on Labor Day - A Hunt and Peck

How one man changed baseball and ruined his career.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

In 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood,Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, and Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson in what would become perhaps the most famous and important trade in baseball history. No, this trade is not famous for any sort of curse, or lop-sidedness, but because it led to establishing a system still in place to this day - free agency. Until 1975 the system baseball had employed was ruled by the reserve clause. This clause stated that upon a contract's expiration, the rights to the player still belonged to the team. To put this in a present day example, this would mean that after this season Jason Heyward's contract would be up, but the Cardinals would still have team control and he would not become a free agent. He would be bound to play for the Cardinals, or would have to ask to be traded or released. A player's only leverage in negotiating this way was to hold out, which only really worked for the superstars.

Today, this sort of system seems unfathomable, but it was the way the game worked for players prior to 1975. After Curt Flood was traded to the Phillies in 1969, he decided to challenge this rule:

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.

Flood sat out the entire 1970 season, forfeiting a $100,000 contract. The lawsuit, funded by the players' union, went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the court ruled in favor of MLB, it did lead to the devolpment of the "10/5 Rule", sometimes called "the Curt Flood Rule", which allowed players to veto any trade after ten years of service time (with the last five to the same team). It was a tiny step forward, but a step. Free agency became fully adopted 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. Other North American professional sports soon followed baseball's lead.

For his efforts, Flood ended up out of work and bankrupt, playing thirteen games with the Washington Senators in 1971 and retiring. He eventually would return to baseball as a broadcaster, but will always be remembered as the man who paved the way for future players to have more power over their careers. Jason Heyward is poised to land a huge contract this offseason, but without Curt Flood, that might not have been possible.

Happy Labor Day! - MLB

what else is going on in baseball...

  • Tony Zych broke a 105-year-old record! - Cut4
  • Bryce Harper gets his 500th hit. - Cut4
  • The Red Sox taped a rookie to a pole (I guess he cannot get hit with a foul ball?). - Cut4
  • Matt. Harvey. - USA Today

what the cardinals are to...

  • Jordan Walden is shut down and Randal Grichuk is back. - STLToday

the chicago cubs...

  • If the Cubs make it to the Wild Card play-in game should they start Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester? - MLB
  • This season has been a nice change for the Cubs. - Sports on Earth
  • Kris Bryant hits a 495-foot home run and has pretty blue eyes. - MLB
  • Contenders clash. - MLB
  • On Jake Arrieta's no hitter. - Fangraphs

the nl central...

weekend scoreboard:

Friday, September 4 Pirates 9 Cardinals 3 BD Recap VEB Recap
Saturday, September 5 Pirates 1 Cardinals 4 BD Recap VEB Recap
Sunday, September 6 Pirates 7 Cardinals 1 BD Recap VEB Recap

Tweet or e-mail me links:

  • @lil_scooter93
  • lil_scooter93 AT msn DOT com!