HBO is releasing a special about former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood, and how he changed the game of baseball.
Curt Flood had a solid 15-year career in which he hit .293 while being selected to three All-Star teams and seven Gold Glove Awards. But his biggest impact came off the field, when this one-time St. Louis Cardinals outfielder decided to sue Major League Baseball.
It all started with a trade where Flood, Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, and Joe Hoerner, were sent off to the Phillies in return for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson, and Cookie Rojas. Flood wouldn’t go. In fact, in response, he went to his lawyer to build a case against the MLB.
In the end, there were two major outcomes of the case: the first was that Flood had committed career suicide, and the second was what is now known as free agency.
The argument needed to be a good one considering that previous decisions (prior to Flood’s case) favored the entity of Major League Baseball. The platform for Flood’s argument played off of what was called “the reverse clause.” Essentially what this says is that a player is the teams property until they either retire, get cut, or are traded.
As far as the language of the clause, it was a little odd. In a nutshell, all it said was that if a player was on a team the season before, then he would be on the same team the season after. This set up players to be bound to the first team they played for, unless that team saw fit to rid themselves of the player.
It was 1972 when Flood got the answer from his case. And he lost 5-3. The people were now 0-3 against the MLB in a court of law. What the ruling did, however, was set up for free agency rules to be reached through the Collective Bargaining Agreement rather than forced upon the league by a court.
Every player should be thanking Flood for free agency. The potential payout for every player is huge, and they aren’t bound to one team anymore. A player won’t be stuck on a losing team their whole career if they don’t want to; they can sign on to a contender if they can reach that deal.
There are whole new dimensions to the game with free agency. The most immediate example is contract years. The play of a potential free agent, in general, will rise in the last year of their contract so they can get a bigger payout. The idea of journeyman players also rose to prominence. These are players who seem to be on a different team every year.
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While Flood’s legacy is excellent for players, it caused players not to stay in one place for long. The days of superstars being known for one team are largely over. Sure, every so often there is a Yadier Molina type who will stay for a career, but they are a retiring breed. Merely look at Albert Pujols types for the other extreme; those who go to the highest bidder, because that is what is good for them.
Players now have more control over their career. They will make decisions about what is important to them. If that is financial security or if it is loyalty, they can make their own decision. It is always on the mind though that a big contract affects the rest of league.
That is where the owners have really lost out. They need to be able to pay for a championship contending team, but the cost of that is continually on the rise.
Depending on who is asked, the legacy of Curt Flood could be great, or less than that. But from a fan’s perspective it is exciting. Sure, some off seasons a big name player will leave the team, but that happens everywhere. It is exciting to feel the hope brought from off season free agency, along with all the speculated possibility of what could be.