HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
January 22, 2006

Baseball is not the same since the Flood of free agency

By Matt Kane

Jan. 16 marked the 37th anniversary of the lawsuit brought on by Curt Flood against Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, claiming the reserve clause was in violation to antitrust laws.

The reserve clause allowed teams to extend a player’s contract for a year beyond its expiration, meaning the player was bound to that team until he retired, was released or was traded.

The trade of Flood by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in October, 1969, prompted Flood, who didn’t want to play for the Phillies, to bring about the lawsuit.

The following two paragraphs are from the letter Flood wrote to Kuhn Dec. 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.”

The letter did nothing to persuade Kuhn to change the way players were handled by teams. Eventually, Flood’s lawsuit made it to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Kuhn and Major League Baseball.

Flood sat out the entire 1970 season, and retired at the end of the 1971 season after playing 13 games with the Washington Senators.

The Supreme Court battle, and Flood’s career may have been over, but the debate over the reserve clause remained a hot topic in the game of baseball.

In 1975, after players Dave McNally, of the Dodgers, and Andy Messersmith, of the Expos, demanded free agency, the reserve clause was struck down, resulting in the birth of free agency. Baseball was the first sport to have free agency.

You have to respect Flood, who died of throat cancer in 1997, for his fight for employee rights, but, as a fan, it is tough.

Free agency allowed players to sell their services to the highest bidder, and is the root of the ever-climbing payrolls in baseball.

According to a US Today story in 2000, the average salary in baseball rose from $51,000 in 1976 to $77,000 in 1977, and to $100,000 in 1978. Oddly enough, Flood was to make $100,000 from the Phillies in 1970, but, because he didn’t report, Flood forfeited his salary.

The average player’s salary on last season’s opening day was $2,866,544.

Not bad if you’re a player.

Not good if you’re an owner or fan. That’s me, a fan, and that’s why I’m not as grateful to Flood as those who play pro baseball.

I yearn for a spring when I know more than half the players on most major league teams without having to reference a roster sheet. But I know those days are gone, and I’m afraid, because of free agency, that Johan Santana will be gone, as well, following this season.

The Twins have been a competitive team for a half decade now, but, in looking at the current players on the roster, it seems their future will only get brighter.

The reigning MVP, batting champion and Cy Young winner on the same team, and all are under the age of 28. But, because of free agency, I wonder how much longer

Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Santana will play together.

Thanks, Curt Flood, but, as a fan, no thanks.


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