Award commemorates the 50th anniversary of his historic judicial fight against the reserve system
NEW YORK, Oct. 19 – The Major League Baseball Players Association today announced it is launching an annual award in honor of the late Curt Flood, in conjunction with the 50th year anniversary of the former All-Star center fielder’s court challenge to the reserve system that paved the way for Players’ free agency rights in professional team sports.
The Curt Flood Award, a new addition to the union’s annual Players Choice Awards, will be given to “a former player, living or deceased, who in the image of Flood demonstrated a selfless, longtime devotion to the Players Association and advancement of Players’ rights.”
“Each year this award will honor one of the many Players in our union’s history who committed himself to our Player Fraternity and demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice individually for the betterment of the whole,” Executive Director Tony Clark said. “Curt was one of the most influential athletes of the 20th century. His principled stand helped fundamentally change the way business is done in all professional team sports -- not just baseball.”
A panel of seven distinguished former and current MLBPA executives nominated four former Players for the first Curt Flood Award, and active Players selected the winner during online balloting in mid-September conducted by ElectionBuddy. The recipient of the award will be announced on Thursday (Oct. 22) along with the rest of the 2020 Players Choice Awards, presented by Topps.
“Curt’s challenge of the reserve clause is truly an example of his courage, commitment to principles and justice,” Judy Pace Flood said. “He knew his actions could cost him his career, yet he took a stance for what he believed was right. Thank you to the MLBPA for continuing to honor and preserve the legacy of my late husband with this award so that his courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
Flood made three All-Star teams, won seven straight Gold Gloves and earned two World Series rings in 12 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals before refusing a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in the fall of 1969. The 31-year-old star challenged baseball’s ability to control his employer and place of work in federal court in New York in 1970 – a legal battle that concluded with a 5-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision against his position in 1972.
After conferring with founding MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller and General Counsel Richard Moss, Flood sought and unanimously received the support of player representatives at the union’s Executive Board meeting in December 1969 for what they understood would be a difficult court challenge given baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws.
On Dec. 24, Flood took a bold stand in the Players’ fight for free agency with a letter to then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn:
“After 12 years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes,” Flood wrote. “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 decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all the major league clubs my feelings in this matter and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”
Though he lost the decision in Flood v. Kuhn, Flood’s legal challenge heightened awareness among Players and the public about the inherent unfairness in the way Players in professional sports were inextricably tied to their teams.
Five years later, in 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the Players Association’s interpretation of the reserve clause and declared pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agents. Since then, Players have fought through eight work stoppages to preserve those rights. They sacrificed time on the field, millions of dollars in salary and, for many, what remained of their careers in Major League Baseball.
Flood, a .293 career hitter, sat out the 1970 season before returning to play 13 games with the Washington Senators in 1971. He informed the Senators he was retiring via a telegraph sent from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York while en route to Spain. He died of throat cancer in 1997.