Today in 1970, Gold Glove outfielder Curt Flood, after refusing to report at Spring Training of the Philadelphia Phillies after he was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals, filed a lawsuit against MLB’s commissioner Bowie Kuhn and all 24 MLB teams. Flood’s case even made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Three-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner and two-time World Series winner, Curt Flood didn’t want to move to Philadelphia. His reasons were the poor record of the team, the obsolete Connie Mack Stadium and the racist Phillies fans.
After the Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies in October 1969, Flood wrote a letter to Kuhn in late December, protesting the league’s player reserve clause, which didn’t allow players to move to another team unless they were traded. Kuhn denied Flood’s request to be made a free agent, and Flood decided to sue. In Flood v. Kuhn, the historic case that followed, Flood argued that the reserve clause violated antitrust laws and violated the 13th Amendment, which barred slavery and involuntary servitude.
After a district court rejected Flood’s case, it went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even though he got support from great players like Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg and former owner Bill Veeck, he suffered as none of the active players did testify on his behalf, and the court ruled against him in a 5-3 decision in 1972.
At the peak of his career at 31 years old, Flood did not only lose the lawsuit but also his career as he was blackballed when none of the MLB clubs offered him an opportunity to play. Flood realized this lawsuit would be the end of his career as he stated: “It would be difficult to come back. And besides, I don’t think I’ll be getting the opportunity to play again. As big as it is, baseball is a closely-knit unit. I doubt even one of the 24 men controlling the game would touch me with a 10-foot pole. You can’t buck the Establishment.”
Next, to the negative effects for his own career, Flood’s lawsuit eventually led to positive developments too. Major League Baseball agreed to federal arbitration of players’ salary demands in 1973, and in 1975 an arbitrator effectively threw out the reserve clause, paving the way for free agency in baseball and all professional sports. 26 years after the lawsuit the Curt Flood Act of 1998 saw life. Gary R. Roberts, a graduate, and author in the Marquette Law Scholarly Journal, explains the Act as:
“[T]he conduct, acts, practices, or agreements of persons’ in the business of organized professional major league baseball directly relating to or affecting employment of major league baseball players to play baseball at the major league level are subject to the antitrust laws to the same extent such conduct, acts, practices or agreements would be subject to the antitrust laws if engaged in by persons in other professional sports business affecting interstate commerce.”
This act did exactly what Flood wanted; it stopped owners from controlling the players’ contracts and careers. Not only did Flood help modify the Reserve Clause, he also helped bring in the 10/5 rule, which is also known as the Curt Flood Rule. The rule means that when a player has played for a team for five straight years and played in the MLB for a total of ten years, they have to give the club their permission to be traded.