This is the first in an off season series that will be appearing Thursday’s here at Redbird Rants. For more on the Influential Cardinals series, come back each Thursday until the start of spring training to learn about Cardinals history and important figures.
The modern day free agency system has its roots in Cardinals history. Most baseball fans know about the reserve clause and the player who helped bring an end to it, Curt Flood. For those who don’t here is a quick explanation of the reserve clause and some insight into Flood’s fight.
The definition of the reserve clause by thefreedictionary.com:
A clause formerly included in the contract of a professional athlete that allowed the automatic extension of the contract for a year beyond its expiration, thus binding the player to the organization until release, retirement, or a trade.
Historically speaking players generally spent their entire career with one team. This changed in the 1970’s with the end of the reserve clause and the advent of free agency.
Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause after being traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies following the 1969 season. Flood refused to report the Phillies and went as far as writing a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to ask for his free agency for the 1970 season.
Here is an excerpt of the letter Flood wrote to Kuhn:
December 24, 1969
After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.
It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.
Flood sat out the 1970 season. He was traded to the Washington Senators prior to the 1971 season, which was to be his last. The case continued to go from there, eventually reaching the Supreme Court in 1972. Flood using his own finances to fight the case, lost and was ruined financially.
Baseball continued to play under the reserve clause for a few more seasons. The reserve clause came to an end in 1975, when a federal judge granted free agency to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who sat out one year without a contract.
Almost immediately after the advent of free agency, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner started trying to buy championships. The players started the money grab and the era of the one team players came to a screeching halt.
Some may argue the pros and cons of free agency.
I think it brings intrigue to the game and gives us baseball to talk about in the off season. Who knows, if not for Curt Flood, we may not have the Hot Stove League each off season.
What do you think about Curt Flood and the reserve clause? Share those thoughts and any free agency related thoughts below in the comment section.