If it weren’t for the actions of this courageous man Curtis Charles Flood, athletes would not have a free agency platform to stand on. Flood made his debut into major league baseball for the Cincinnati Redlegs on September 9, 1956. About a year later, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he remained for 12 seasons as a center fielder.
During this time, the athlete was able to flourish, especially under the management of Johnny Keane in 1961. As he continued to improve his skills throughout the years, Curt Flood earned several accolades, such as two-time World Series championships, three-time All Star, and seven-time Gold Glove.
Despite having an overall great career full of highs and lows, the professional’s best challenge was yet to come. In 1968, Flood’s bright light started to dim when he demanded a raise from the Cardinals. He also missed a fly ball in the middle of a championship game, which may have played a factor in his salary readjustment and career with the team from then on. On October 8, 1969, the major leaguer was told by middle management that he was being traded. Regardless of his long-standing relationship with the team, Curtis Flood found himself out in far left field.
Due to the reverse clause of the 20th century, players were bound to one franchise unless traded, released, or retired. However, the decision to be sent to another team did not sit well with Curt Flood. He not only refused to go, but he wanted to challenge the clause with his lawyer.
Flood also let the executive and founder of the Players Association know that he was suing the league. This stance shook up professional sports as a whole. It also forced the courts to take a look at whether or not baseball was a sport or a business. Flood made it quite clear that he was against not being in control of his own destiny.
A few players before him tried to contest the reverse clause and failed. Nevertheless, Curt’s suit laid down the foundation and opened up doors for future players. Overnight, he went from being a fan favorite to receiving death threats. Even though he was backed by the newly formed Player’s Union, his suit resulted in a loss. The baseball player sacrificed his career and financial stability by sitting out the 1970 season. Upon returning to the game the following year with the Washington Senators, the center fielder was not at his best.
After playing only 13 games, he decided to retire. Although Flood didn’t win his case, it was years later that the tide for players started to take a turn. The free agency revolution had made its way to all sports. Sadly, Curtis Charles Flood had to face racial discrimination, no team support, and alcoholism in order for it to happen. His willingness to not back down inspired others and has left a lasting impact. In his own words, “A well paid slave is still a slave.”
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