January 21, 1997 in Sports

Maverick Flood Dies Of Cancer His Stand Against Baseball’s Reserve Clause Ended His Career, Opened E To Free Agency

From Wire Reports
 

Former major-league outfielder Curt Flood, known more for his stand against baseball’s reserve clause than his six seasons with a batting average above .300, died Monday of throat cancer. He was 59.

Flood started baseball’s free-agency era by challenging the sport’s reserve clause, which bound a player to an organization entirely at the team’s whim.

The outfielder fought the clause when the St. Louis Cardinals traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1970 season. His case went all the way to the U.S Supreme Court, where he lost in 1972. In 1975, an arbitrator granted pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agency, allowing them to sign with whatever team they wanted.

Since then, veteran players are allowed to sign with any team when their contracts expire.

“Perhaps more than any other player, Curt Flood brought to the nation’s attention the basic injustice of baseball’s reserve system,” said Donald Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. “All players know that Curt’s effort was critical to establishing the rights that they now enjoy, and they will always be in his debt.”

Flood died at UCLA Medical Center.

“Every major league baseball player owes Curt Flood a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid,” American League Player Representative David Cone said in a statement. “With the odds overwhelmingly against him, he was willing to take a stand for what he knew was right.”

Flood batted .293 with 85 home runs and 636 runs batted in during 1,759 games with the Cincinnati Reds, Cardinals and Washington Senators from 1956-71. He led the National League with 211 hits in 1964 and batted .300 or better in six of eight seasons from 1961-68. He sat out the 1970 season while protesting the trade to the Phillies after he’d spent 12 years with St. Louis. A three-time All-Star and a seven-time Gold Glove winner, Flood was an elegant fielder and a key member of Cardinals teams that won the World Series in 1964 and 1967.

Flood’s fight began after the 1969 season, when he was traded along with Tim McCarver from St. Louis to Philadelphia for Dick Allen in a seven-player deal. Flood, however, refused to report to the Phillies.

He asked then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn to declare him a free agent, but was turned down. He then filed a lawsuit, claiming baseball had violated antitrust laws.

He sat out the 1970 season, continuing his fight against baseball, while the Phillies and Cardinals worked out their trade.

After the 1970 season, a deal was made to send Flood to the Washington Senators. His comeback at age 33 did not go well, and he played only 13 games in ‘71 before retiring.

The Supreme Court ruled against Flood in 1972. But in 1975, an arbitrator granted free agency to Messersmith and McNally, in effect ending the reserve system and clearing the way for today’s free-agent system.

A few years ago, Flood reflected on what his battle had wrought.

“All the groundwork was laid for the people who came after me. The Supreme Court decided not to give it to me, so they gave it to two white guys,” Flood said. “I think that’s what they were waiting for.”

Flood began his career in Cincinnati in 1956, playing eight games with the Reds before he was part of a five-player trade that sent him to the Cardinals after the ‘57 season.

His breakout year came in 1961, when he hit .322. He led the N.L. with 211 hits in 1964 and helped the Cardinals reach the World Series, where they beat the New York Yankees in seven games.

Teaming with Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock at the top of the St. Louis lineup, he hit a career-high .335 in 1967 as the Cardinals again won the Series, in seven games over Boston.

He batted .301 in 1968 as the Cardinals again reached the World Series. He hit .286 against the Detroit Tigers, but it was his misplay of a fly ball hit by Jim Northrup in the seventh inning of a scoreless Game 7 that marred his otherwise outstanding season and cost the Cardinals another championship.

After his retirement, he spent the 1978 season as a broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics. Later, while living in Baldwin Hills, Calif., he ran a foundation to benefit innercity youngsters.

Flood, who turned 59 last Saturday, never got close to induction during his 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot. His final chance came last year.

His perseverance off the field, however, changed the game forever and earned him a special place in baseball history.

“At the time Curt Flood decided to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, he was perhaps the sport’s premier center fielder,” said Marvin Miller, head of the players’ union while Flood fought. “And yet he chose to fight an injustice, knowing that even if by some miracle he won, his career as a professional baseball player would be over.

“There is no Hall of Fame for people like Curt.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT THEY’RE SAYING Curt Flood’s death Monday brought reaction from those who remembered the former St. Louis Cardinals center fielder for his commitment and influence on and off the field: “Many knew Curt as a fine player, and a man of historic courage, but he was also a wonderfully bright, caring and loving person. He will be enormously missed by those who had the good fortune to share time with him.” - Richard M. Moss, a member of the players’ union from 1966-77 and a friend of Flood’s. “Perhaps more than any other player, Curt Flood brought to the nation’s attention the basic injustice of baseball’s reserve system. All players know that Curt’s effort was critical to establishing the rights they now enjoy, and they will always be in his debt.” - Players’ union head Donald Fehr. “Our society, today, is all too quick to declare someone a role model one day and then cut him or her down the next. But if ever there was a role model for our society, Curt Flood was one.” - Former players’ union head Marvin Miller. “He was as good as if not a better center fielder that I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, he was a Hall of Famer. Secondly, he played at the same level all of the time, never got down and always was available to play.” - Former Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, who acquired Flood from Cincinnati in a 1957 trade. “Curt was one of the finest outfielders in the game. He had quite a career. I’ve known him for a long, long time. He was a good man, and a good friend. I knew he was sick, I’m sorry to see that happen. Speaking for the Dodgers, our condolences go to his family. I met his family in New York a couple years ago. It’s a big, big loss to them and to baseball.” - Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT THEY’RE SAYING Curt Flood’s death Monday brought reaction from those who remembered the former St. Louis Cardinals center fielder for his commitment and influence on and off the field: “Many knew Curt as a fine player, and a man of historic courage, but he was also a wonderfully bright, caring and loving person. He will be enormously missed by those who had the good fortune to share time with him.” - Richard M. Moss, a member of the players’ union from 1966-77 and a friend of Flood’s. “Perhaps more than any other player, Curt Flood brought to the nation’s attention the basic injustice of baseball’s reserve system. All players know that Curt’s effort was critical to establishing the rights they now enjoy, and they will always be in his debt.” - Players’ union head Donald Fehr. “Our society, today, is all too quick to declare someone a role model one day and then cut him or her down the next. But if ever there was a role model for our society, Curt Flood was one.” - Former players’ union head Marvin Miller. “He was as good as if not a better center fielder that I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, he was a Hall of Famer. Secondly, he played at the same level all of the time, never got down and always was available to play.” - Former Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, who acquired Flood from Cincinnati in a 1957 trade. “Curt was one of the finest outfielders in the game. He had quite a career. I’ve known him for a long, long time. He was a good man, and a good friend. I knew he was sick, I’m sorry to see that happen. Speaking for the Dodgers, our condolences go to his family. I met his family in New York a couple years ago. It’s a big, big loss to them and to baseball.” - Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.


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