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Curtis Flood Deserves to be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Curtis Charles Flood (AKA Curt) was born on January 18, 1938 in Houston, Texas. While still a

youngster his family moved to Oakland, California. Curt, an excellent athlete, was a star baseball

player at McClymonds High School in Oakland. That name may be familiar to a lot of sports fans as the

school that produced Bill Russell, the hall of fame basketball player team captain, eleven-time NBA

championships, and eventually held the coach position of the legendary Boston Celtics. McClymonds

also produced Frank Robinson, a major league hall of fame baseball player and coach for several teams, including the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles. Then there was Vada Pinson, another major league all-star baseball player who also played most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds. It’s hard to believe that McClymonds produced all three baseball players who at one time were Curt’s high school teammates.

Curt was drafted out of McClymonds by the Reds and made his major league debut as an 18-year-old

outfielder, who displayed superior skills including power-hitting despite his modest size of 5’9” and

165 lbs. Flood’s stay with the Reds was short-lived, only a few at-bats in 1956. He was traded to the

St. Louis Cardinals to make room for the equally talented Vada Pinson. The Cardinals recognized Curt’s

skills and how he could impact the team. He became the team’s starting center fielder almost

immediately and remained there for 12 years. He was a three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove

winner for seven consecutive seasons and batted over 300 in six seasons. He led the National League

in hits with 211 in 1964, in that same year the Cardinals won the World Series. The Cardinals won the

series again and 1967 when Flood hit 335, the highest batting average of his career. He retired having

played the third most games in center field (1,683) in National League history. This was also the era

in which Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle also played center field.

Flood finished his career with the Cardinals in 1969. He was traded to the Phillies for whom he never

played. The Washington Senators acquired him in 1971 for whom he played just a few games

before prematurely retiring at the age of 33. He finished his career with a lifetime 293 batting average

and 1,861 hits along with seven Gold Gloves and two World Series rings.

The most significant reason for Curt not being considered for membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame

was his opposition to baseball’s reserve clause, which gave major league teams control of a drafted player for the life of their career. When he was offered a small, even by the standards of the time, $5,000 raise after the 1969 season, Curt took the unprecedented step of refusing to sign the contract. He was

then traded. Curt also refused the trade and did not report to his new team even though the

Philadelphia Phillies offered him more money. He said in his letter to Baseball Commissioner Bowie

Kuhn, “I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” Sound

familiar? He went on to say, “I believe that I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before

making any decisions.”

Curt Flood lost his case when it was heard by the Supreme Court on June 19, 1972. The court ruled 5-3,

with one Justice, Lewis Powell, recusing himself because he owned stock in Anheuser-Busch which

owned the Cardinals. The basis for the ruling was on the principle of stare decisis (“to stand by things

decided”). In other words, baseball’s antitrust status is already established so the court will not

interfere. In 1998 the federal government passed the Curt Flood Act which granted free agency to

players who have played 10 years in the majors and five with the same team.

Flood’s case led to substantial changes in labor relations in all professional sports though he never

benefitted personally. He opened the door for athletes to sign multimillion-dollar contracts in their late

teens or early 20’s having never played in a professional baseball, basketball, or football game.

Although today’s top baseball players are signing long-term contracts valued at hundreds of millions

of dollars, Flood’s role helped make these salaries possible. In fact, he’s never been officially

acknowledged for his courageous stand.

In 1971 he retired prematurely, disillusioned and perhaps depressed. In addition, to players who had

outstanding careers in terms of their athletic performance, baseball’s Hall of Fame includes baseball

executives, managers, and umpires. Even Marvin Miller, the attorney representing Curt Flood and other

players who challenged baseball’s reserve clause were elected to the Hall of Fame, but not the player

who struck the first blow.

I believe Curt Flood is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame today because his challenge to baseball’s

reserve clause made him a permanent enemy of team owners and the baseball establishment

which had total control over players and the substantial revenues the game produced for owners. The

fact that he was also a black man willing to stand up to the owners’ immense power and wealth

also contributed to their desire to erase his legacy from the game. No plantation owner celebrated the

Emancipation Proclamation.

By Richard L. Benbow Jr.

Edited by: Earl “Skip” Cooper, II

(An Alumni of McClymonds High School, Class of 1961)

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