By 1969, Curt Flood had compiled some rather impressive career stats as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals: a three-time All-Star center fielder with seven Gold Gloves, he batted more than .300 six times. But when the 31-year-old Flood was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1970 season, he did something that left an indelible mark on the sports landscape: he challenged baseball's "reserve clause." This was the standard contract clause that essentially bound baseball players to one team forever"one year at a time.
Why would Flood risk his $100,000 salary in such a challenge? One reason would have been his opinion of Philadelphia as a racist town"Flood called it "the nation's northernmost southern city." More important to the open-minded athlete, however, was the way in which the reserve clause made him feel like a piece of property.
"I'm a child of the sixties, I'm a man of the sixties," Flood explained. "During that period of time this country was coming apart at the seams. We were in Southeast Asia. Good men were dying for America and for the Constitution. In the southern part of the United States we were marching for civil rights and Dr. King had been assassinated, and we lost the Kennedys. And to think that merely because I was a professional baseball player, I could ignore what was going on outside the walls of Busch Stadium was truly hypocrisy and now I found that all of those rights that these great Americans were dying for, I didn't have in my own profession."
While it's difficult to reconcile Flood's stance with what free agency has since become, his sacrifice in the name of economic freedom was nothing short of a one-man revolution. Unfortunately, those who gained the most from Flood's defiance have little sense of revolution"or history. When Flood died of throat cancer in 1997 at the age of 59, baseball's multi-millionaires never paid proper respect.
"I'm sorry that so many of the young players who made millions, who benefited from his fight, are not here," former player Tito Fuentes commented at Flood's memorial service. "They should be here."
"There is no Hall of Fame for people like Curt," said Marvin Miller, former executive director of the Major League Players Association. "At the time Curt Flood decided to challenge baseball's reserve clause, he was perhaps the sport's premier center fielder," Miller declared. "And yet he chose to fight an injustice, knowing that even if by some miracle he won, his career as a professional player would be over. At no time did he waver in his commitment and determination. He had experienced something that was inherently unfair and was determined to right the wrong, not so much for himself, but for those who would come after him. Few praised him for this, then or now."
Excerpted from "50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know" (Disinformation Books). Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.