By Ken Reed

In a head-shaking decision on June 19, 1972, the Supreme Court ruled against St. Louis Cardinal Curt Flood in an antitrust suit Flood brought against Major League Baseball (MLB) over MLB’s reserve clause, which stated that the original team signing a player controlled that player’s rights for the player’s entire career.

Flood rightly claimed that the reserve clause was a form of slavery.

In a letter to then baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood wrote:

“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.”

As columnist William C. Rhoden wrote, “Flood’s loss at the Supreme Court level in 1972 was a stinging rebuke to a courageous player who dared to attack a deeply entrenched system of sports bondage.”

Despite losing the case, Flood’s effort inspired the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) as a whole, and pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally in particular, to continue fighting baseball’s reserve clause. In 1975, the reserve clause was struck down in a case brought by Messersmith and McNally.

In 1998, Congress passed the Curt Flood Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That law revoked baseball’s antitrust status (except for expansion, the minor leagues, and franchise relocation … that oversight is another subject for another day), a status that major league baseball had enjoyed for 75 years.

Flood’s pioneering efforts also led to the Curt Flood Rule, also known as the 10/5 Rule, in Major League Baseball. This rule states that after a player has ten years of Major League service time and has played for one team for at least five straight years, that player can’t be traded to another team without the player’s consent.

In 2020, 102 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter, co-signed by players’ unions from the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLS, to the Baseball Hall of Fame asking the Hall to vote Flood in. However, various Hall of Fame committees have, to date, failed to give him enough votes for induction.

Fifty years later, that’s an injustice that needs to be fixed. Not only was Flood an All-Star player (in 1968, Sports Illustrated called Flood the game’s best centerfielder) and a key cog on two World Champion Cardinals teams, he sacrificed the latter years of his successful career for a righteous cause that changed the game for the better for the thousands of players that followed him.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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