St. Louis Cardinals: The change Curt Flood brought to the MLB
Curt Flood played a major role in shaping not only St. Louis Cardinals baseball, but the MLB as a whole. The changes that are still seen today have had a profound impact on how the league and it’s players function as a whole today.
What do we give up as people for what we stand for? That is the question Curtis Charles Flood must have asked himself a lot during his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.
To this day, I feel that Curt Flood‘s plight was about what a person stands for. Even with technology and social networking, has a view of a person who does not fit in changed since Flood’s time?
What was Flood trying to tell St. Louis Cardinals management, MLB, and other teams management in his time? While Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in the majors over 20 years prior, there were still plenty of issues with the way players were treated, and while these rules were written to bind all players, this particular treatment felt especially resonant towards African-Americans.
"“In 1969, players were still bound to a team for life by the so-called reserve clause. Simply put, a player was a team’s property. Unless the team chose to trade him or release him, his first big-league team would be his only big-league team for his entire career. A player’s only recourse was retirement.” – Allen Barra, The Atlantic, July 12, 2011"
In simple terms, he felt as though he was a slave. I was just 6 years old at the time, and I just loved listening to St. Louis Cardinals baseball, acting out my favorite dreams in the back yard playing wiffle ball by myself. I felt that same joy in playing the game that all major league players should have, but Flood simply could not stand the way players were handled in the major league system.
Flood felt he was alone, according to Bob Gibson from the HBO documentary about Curt Flood.
When the two were roommates on the road, Gibby would wake up and find Flood smoking and drinking at 3 a.m., talking to himself about feeling though he was a slave.
Did Flood have other problems? Sure, just as anyone ever living in this world. After all, we are all just human beings, looking to find our place without losing ourselves within the process. For Flood, his place in history is not just by how he played, but by what he stood for.
"“He played 15 years from 1956 to 1971. (He took the 1970 season off). He batted .293, was a three-time All-Star, and, playing center field for the St. Louis Cardinals, won Gold Glove seven consecutive seasons, from 1963-1969. He was on three pennant-winning teams with the Cardinals and earned two World Series rings. But it’s what Curt Flood didn’t do in 1969 that helped change the game forever: He did not accept a trade (Allen Barra, The Atlantic, July 12, 2011)”."
Just because a person plays well does not afford him anything; when a person is doing what he loves outside sources of money, that becomes obsolete. There are players in which money doesn’t matter as much to them because at that point their own personal worth that becomes the focus.
Has that changed today?
Within a person’s own family, and in this case the St. Louis Cardinals family, Curt Flood felt as though he was a slave.
So when St. Louis Cardinals management traded Flood and McCarver along with two others at the end of the ’69 season, a much different message was sent to Flood than in other trade scenarios. Flood’s felt like he was simply being tossed aside, like an appliance the team didn’t need anymore.
"“At the end of the 1969 season, the Cardinals traded him, along with Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, and Joe Hoerner, to the Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson, and Cookie Rojas. But this trade was turned out to be different from all other trades before or since: This time, one of the two principal stars—most baseball writers regarded it mainly as a swap of Flood for Allen—refused to go (Allen Barra, The Atlantic, July 12, 2011)”."
So, on January 16, 1970, Flood took action against what he believed was the injustice of the MLB reserve clause by filing suit in a New York District Court against MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the presidents of the American and National Leagues and all 24 teams in Major League Baseball.
The Love of the Game
To be 100% sure of the reason why Flood felt so entrapped by his contract, a fan would have to interview many people, but so many years have gone by, and things have already changed in a way that would have probably satisfied Flood. So is there a point to be had when looking back on all this?
They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, so it is important that we remember how things could be in a league that now has a free agency market driven by players and not owners.
But in many ways, it is still the same. Players wanting money for placement, ownership having power to grant or move placement.
It is more business than personal, or so they would have the fan believe. Passion and love for the game arguably diminishing in ways when you compare to 1969, and if you need any evidence of that, just ask the players of eras gone by.
They would tell you they would have played for nothing for the love of the game, most if not all today would say it is still a love for the game, but getting what one is monetarily worth is the main focus.
Could the biggest players today tell an honest story about how money is not the main reason?
Considering that millions and millions of fans would MLB would step up and play for free if they had the chance, there is still hope. Just as I dreamed when I was 6 years old, playing for nothing, just loved playing, hitting, and broadcasting my own wiffle ball game, these players too once had this same pure love for the game of baseball.
But the greed of free agency, the greed of players is what this contributor sees in MLB offseasons, as well as talking points within a season for future moves.
Greed is the only snake that can not be tamed, and even the best of us can be tempted by it, especially if what is desired is something that is worked for or long sought.
Was this Flood’s legacy: the true reasoning behind why Curt Flood did what he did for not only himself but for MLB?
I can’t bring myself to believe it, but only Curt Flood knows this, and only he can bring true life to a story about the change brought about, and if it was because it was something he truly believed in.
The system was definitely broken, and Flood’s actions lead it in the right direction. For perspective’s sake, If a player in that period, Flood for example, felt his agency, stewardship was compromised, taken away. The free will, freedom of choice was just an illusion, as owners eventually had the final say. This could be the root of why Flood felt as though he were a slave.
"“Not only did Flood refuse to go, but he went to his personal lawyer and then to Marvin Miller, founder and executive director of the Players Association, and told them he wanted to sue Major League Baseball. The decision sent shock waves not only through baseball but ultimately through all professional sports. Those waves reverberate even to this day. And though he was aware that it would cost him dearly, he never wavered (Allen Barra, The Atlantic, July 12, 2011)”."
Where was Gibson, Willie Mays, Henry “Hank” Aaron, Ernie Banks, they were all non-existent, however, Flood was not looking for fortune or fame so, instead standing in the fire is a slow burn that is felt alone.
People were shocked, people did not know what to think about Flood suing MLB, reading further it is no wonder why people did not stand beside Flood.
It caused Flood a great deal personal strife to stand alone against the monopoly of MLB. Flood was ahead of his time, he wrote Bowie Kuhn and requested free agency. He took the MLB to court for three long years, and didn’t have much support from the peers he was fighting for.
Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg were two former players that stood by him, but no current players stood in the fire with Flood. He took the burden on his own two shoulders, and lead the MLB towards not only more rights for players, but a free agent period that provides fans the entertainment that situations like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado bring as well.
"Because of the pressure that Flood’s suit brought to the baseball owners, Miller and the union were able to bargain for binding arbitration on grievances. And, finally, in 1976, when pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally agreed to play a season without a contract, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled them free agents. Overnight, the system that Miller called feudal, the one that had ruled baseball virtually since its professional organs, collapsed (Allen Barra, The Atlantic, July 12, 2011)”."
Born Curtis Charles Flood, just like his roommate and friend Bob Gibson both St. Louis Cardinals greats, both changed the game of baseball forever, each in their own way. A player’s right to invoke their own agency, stewardship, free will, freedom of choice; Flood had none of that in 1969. But in 2019, players have all of those personal freedoms thanks to a St. Louis Cardinals legend in Curtis Charles Flood.
Free agency greed is the player’s inheritance for his past performance. It provides great fortune to players, but they should always remember the great personal price Curtis Charles Flood paid to get them there.