NEW YORK, NY – Curt Flood set off the free-agent revolution 50 years ago Tuesday with a 128-word letter to baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, two paragraphs that pretty much ended the career of a World Series champion regarded as among the sport's stars but united a union behind his cause.
St. Louis had traded the All-Star center fielder to Philadelphia just after the 1969 season. Flood broke with the sport's culture of conformity and refused to accept the Cardinals' right to deal him, becoming a pioneer and a pariah.
After weeks of discussions with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Flood began the union's equivalent of Lexington and Concord, challenging the reserve clause in first shot of a labor war that would consume the sport for more than a quarter-century.
"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 in his Dec. 24 missive. "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."
Flood and the union lost that fight in a lawsuit that went all the way the U.S. Supreme Court, but the union's fight went on.
"If there had not been the person who was going to step out there and take the bullets, there wouldn't have been anything," Flood's widow, the actress Judy Pace, said last weekend. “So he was the man who stepped out of the foxhole to go and challenge.”
The reserve clause was struck down in 1975 by arbitrator Peter Seitz in the case of pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, and it took eight work stoppages from 1972 through 1995 to achieve long-term labor peace.