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 baseballs 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 nations 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.
Im a child of the sixties, Im 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 didnt have in my own profession.
While its difficult to reconcile Floods 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 Floods defiance have little sense of revolution or history. When Flood died of throat cancer in 1997 at the age of 59, baseballs multi-millionaires never paid proper respect.
Im 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 Floods memorial service. They should be here.
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.