There are going to be a couple of players included in my Top 100 that I never actually saw play. Instead, I include them because of their contributions and legacy left to the game. Curt Flood is the first of these.
Last week the Angels signed free agent Albert Pujols to a 10 year, $254M contract. Pujols, the best player in this generation, played out his contract with the Cardinals and was able to choose to sign with the team of his choice in an open market. To put it simply... he could not have done that without Curt Flood.
Curt Flood was a three-time All-Star and seven-time winner of the Gold Glove in center field. When you consider Flood played during the same era as Willie Mays, the gold gloves become even more impressive. He hit more than .300 six times and won two world series rings during his 15-year major league career that began in 1956.
After the 1969 season, the Cardinals attempted to trade Flood, then 31 years of age, to the Philadelphia Phillies in the deal that sent Dick Allen to St. Louis. Flood had no interest in moving to Philadelphia, a city he had always viewed as racist. More importantly, he objected to being treated as a piece of property and to the restriction of freedom embedded in baseball's reserve clause. The reserve clause was that part of the standard player’s contract which bound the player, one year at a time, in perpetuity to the club owning his contract. Rather than play in Philly, Curt Flood decided to challenge the "reserve clause."
With the backing of the Union, Flood pursued the case known as Flood v. Kuhn all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Flood, upholding baseball’s exemption from antitrust statutes, the case rose awareness of the unfairness of the system and set the stage for the 1975 Messersmith-McNally rulings and the advent of baseball free agency.
The professional, financial and emotional costs to Flood as a result of his unprecedented challenge were enormous. Flood’s major league career (his 1970 salary would have been $100,000) effectively ended with his legal action. He was broke and bitter man. When he died in in 1997, his funeral was attended dozens of former ballplayers paying tribute to the man who martyred his career for the benefit of others.
Former player Tito Fuentes was quoted as he passed by Flood's casket... "He was a great man, I’m sorry that so many of the young players who made millions, who benefited from his fight, are not here. They should be here."
Albert Pujols should get on his knees every night and thank Curt Flood for what he did for him.
Want to learn more? Read the book A Well-Paid Slave