Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972)
A seven-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder who had batted over .300 in 6 of 12 seasons, Curt Flood (who was born on this day in 1938 in Houston, Texas) balked when the St. Louis Cardinals notified him that they were trading him to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season. At that time, teams enforced a "reserve clause" upon all major league players, which gave the teams the right to trade players without their permission. Flood, incensed that he was being treated as a piece of property that could be bought and sold without his say, took his case to court with the support from the Major League Baseball Players Association, writing "I believe any system that produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and inconsistent with the laws of the United States."
The case ultimately went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5 to 3 in 1972 against Flood. Nevertheless, Flood's case, with its underpinnings of being attached to the Civil Rights movement, galvanized Marvin Miller and the Players' Association, which achieved Flood's aims 4 years after his case by introducing the concept of "free agency" for any player with 10 years' service with 1 team. Many have since claimed that "free agency" has resulted in the degradation of fan loyalty and the spiraling of costs, but it is hard to argue with Flood's essential premise in favor of human rights.
Flood himself never reaped the benefits of "free agency." He retired from baseball after one more season with the Washington Senators (close to the Supreme Court) in 1971 to become a broadcaster for the Oakland A's, and to paint. His portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. now hangs in the King family home. Flood died of throat cancer on January 20, 1997.
Categories: Baseball, Civil-Rights, Juris-History