Flood's impact on baseball's evolution undeniable
Outfielder's fight to abolish reserve clause essentially created free agency
Babe Ruth. Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Jackie Robinson. You can make the case that, when it comes to the most influential persons in baseball history, those are the only folks who rank higher than Curt Flood.
So I'll make that case.
It's easy to do, by the way.
"Despite all of the things my father did for baseball, I'm getting a lot of feedback that he's not going to make it to Cooperstown, but I don't believe that," said Shelly Flood, one of Curt's five children.
Shelly uses action as well as words while promoting her late father for the Hall of Fame. Among other things, she has spent the last five years or so trying to get Curt Flood elected through a vibrant Facebook fan page that has gone from 135 folks before she took the page over to more than 2,500 and counting.
Flood has that following partly for what he did on the field, but mostly for how he never sacrificed his convictions away from it. In fact, to supporters of this magnificent center fielder for the Cardinals during the 1960s with the striking social consciousness, it's Cooperstown or bust.
"I believe it's going to happen in due time," Shelly continued over the phone from her home in Los Angeles. "It might not happen in my lifetime, but I know it will eventually happen. Everything I've been involved with over the last five years tells me that people recognize his contribution, and they believe he needs to be honored."
Yes, Flood does. Even though he died in January 1997, he still lives in so many ways, exemplified by more than a few things in recent years.
There was that conference run by the Buck O'Neil Professional Scouts and Coaches Association that spent much of its weekend in 2011 honoring Flood's memory in Oakland, his native city. Shelly was the keynote speaker, and she received a standing ovation after she urged those present to spread the lessons of her dad to youth. Just last year, Flood was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in the field and at the plate with potent Cardinals teams. He earned seven Gold Glove Awards, three All-Star Game trips, two World Series rings and enough momentum in a daily lineup with Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris to finish with a lifetime batting average of .293 after 15 seasons.
There also is the Flood-inspired program this weekend in Kansas City, where the Negro League Baseball Museum will hold a two-day event entitled, "A Supreme Decision: The Curt Flood Symposium."
Which brings us to the primary reason Flood still lives: Did you see what Clayton Kershaw got from the Dodgers earlier this year? Many of today's deals rival the economies of medium-sized countries, and it all goes back to Flood refusing a trade on Oct. 7, 1969, from the Cardinals to the Phillies. His act of unprecedented defiance over the reserve clause, which restricted player movement from team to team, led to the Curt Flood Rule, which allowed those with 10 years of experience (including the last five with the same team) to veto trades.
Then, after Flood continued his protest over the reserve clause by sitting out the 1970 season, he played only a few games for the Washington Senators in 1971 before retiring to follow his legal fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court. He lost, but he eventually won. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Major League Baseball's attempt to keep the status quo. But three years later, an arbitrator's ruling accomplished what Flood sought from the start by abolishing the reserve clause.
Just like that, free agency was born, and so were the gigantic salaries for players and the eternal legacy of Flood's courage.
Flood still lives, all right, and he does so in each of the seven Dodgers players who will make $15 million or more this season. He particularly still lives in Kershaw, who owns the richest yearly contract in baseball history, at an estimated $30.7 million. Not only that, Flood still lives in Kobe Bryant, who makes $30.5 million in the NBA, and the same goes for others in that league such as LeBron James ($19.1 million), Dwyane Wade ($18.7 million) and Kevin Durant ($17.8 million). Flood also still lives in Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, all among the NFL players who will make $18 million or more this season.
Simply put, whenever one of these monster contracts is signed by anybody in any professional league, folks should pause for a moment of silence for the man who triggered it all. According to baseball-reference.com, Flood made approximately $472,500 for his entire Major League career.
Flood is mentioned often these days, but given his overall contributions to sports, he should be mentioned even more than that.
"It's an ongoing, everyday reality that we're hoping dad is acknowledged and that he is given the recognition that he deserves," Shelly said. "It's not so much for fame. It's for telling the story to others of how baseball progressed along the way to free agency. It's about history."
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.