Flood, Curt(is) Charles

views updated

FLOOD, Curt(is) Charles

(b. 18 January 1938 in Houston, Texas; d. 20 January 1997 in Inglewood, California), outstanding outfielder in the 1960s who challenged the legality of base-ball's reserve clause, laying the groundwork for player free agency.

Flood was the last of the six children of Herman Flood and Laura Flood. When Flood was two years old, his family moved to Oakland, California, his mother and father both worked at menial jobs in a hospital. His father often took a second job to supplement their income. At nine years old Flood joined a police-sponsored midget league baseball team coached by George Powles, a prominent Oakland baseball figure who also coached the baseball stars Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and Joe Morgan among others. Flood and Robinson were teammates on one of Powles's American Legion teams, and Flood followed Robinson into the Cincinnati Reds organization in 1956. Another school-age influence for Flood was Jim Chambers, an art teacher at Hoover Junior High School. Chambers instilled in Flood a lifelong love of art. Flood attended the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, and worked as a portrait artist during the off-seasons.

In February 1956 Flood began his baseball career with the Cincinnati organization and immediately met unfamiliar segregation when he arrived in Tampa, Florida, for spring training. Sent to the Class B Carolina League to play for High Point–Thomasville, he faced the full brunt of racial discrimination in the recently desegregated southern minor leagues. The following year Flood played for Savannah in the South Atlantic League. After two successful seasons in the Reds' system that included brief playing stints in Cincinnati both years, Flood was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Shortly thereafter, in February 1959, Flood married Beverly Collins; their union produced four children. They later divorced, and Flood married again.

With the Cardinals, Flood blossomed into one of the best center fielders in baseball during the 1960s. During the 1964 season Flood helped lead the Cardinals to the first of the three pennants they won in the 1960s (1964, 1967, and 1968) and the first of two World Series titles. While he registered a career batting average of .293 with 1,861 hits, his legacy as a player was cast in center field. The best defensive center fielder of his day, he won seven straight National League Gold Gloves, an award given for fielding excellence at each position, between 1963 and 1969. Flood set records by playing 223 consecutive games without an error and 568 consecutive fielding chances without an error.

After the 1968 season, when the Cardinals won the National League pennant but lost to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, Flood was offered a salary of $77,500 for 1969. Seeking a larger salary, Flood held out during the beginning of spring training. He came to terms with the Cardinals, but his offense slipped a bit during the season as he batted .285 in 1969. On 7 October 1969 Flood was traded with the catcher Tim McCarver and two others to the Philadelphia Phillies in a blockbuster trade for the slugger Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson.

Flood had been with the Cardinals since 1958, had business interests in St. Louis, and did not particularly want to play in Philadelphia, where the team was a perennial second division finisher and the fans were, in his opinion, hostile to African-American baseball players. Flood contacted the Major League Baseball Players Association director Marvin Miller about his legal rights in challenging the trade. Since the 1870s baseball had incorporated into the standard players contract the reserve clause, which bound the player for one year plus an option for the following season. When a player signed a contract, he was bound for that year and the year after. Miller wanted to challenge this clause, but he was seeking to do so with a bench player who could claim that, by being bound to a team and not getting an opportunity to play, he was losing a chance to earn a livelihood. Instead, Miller ended up with one of the game's best stars issuing a challenge to that part of the contract.

Before taking the case, player representatives and union officials grilled Flood on his desire to pursue the case. Miller and others raised a concern that Flood could be perceived as using this case merely as a ploy to demand a higher salary. Flood insisted that was not the case, nor was he motivated by militancy. He simply desired to have a say in where he worked the following year. He wrote the Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn in December 1969 to declare his desire to "consider offers from other clubs." The case, Flood v. Kuhn (1972), was a landmark case in the history of sports law. Flood sat out the 1970 season to reinforce his stand that he desired to select his place of employment.

The case was first heard in May 1970 in New York City. In August, Flood lost his case but started a series of appeals eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1972 the Court ruled against Flood (5–3) on the basis that baseball was exempt from the antitrust laws because it was a sport, not a business. While Major League Baseball won the day in court, the Players Association, led by Miller, obtained some major concessions, including arbitration that eventually led to player free agency in 1975. In November 1970 Flood was traded to the Washington Senators for three minor league players. Flood reported to camp and played twenty-four games for the Senators that season. He batted just .200 and did not feel that he could return to the skills that had earned him accolades as the best center fielder in baseball. He decided to retire at the age of thirty-three.

Flood's postbaseball career was symbolized by periodic returns to the baseball world. He broadcast games for the Oakland A's during the 1979 season and later worked as a recreation specialist for the city of Oakland until 1987. He served as the commissioner of two fringe baseball organizations called the Senior League and the Fantasy Major Slo-Pitch Softball League. Attempting to reproduce the popularity of the senior golf tour, the Senior League sought to field teams of former major and minor league players over the age of thirty-give for a winter league based in Florida. Many writers noted the irony that Flood was the commissioner of a baseball league. The Fantasy Major Slo-Pitch Softball League was formed in 1987 as an indoor league in Florissant, Missouri. As commissioner Flood recruited former major league players. Later Flood served with the administration of the United Baseball League, a major league competitor planned during the prolonged player strike of the 1994 season. When the strike ended in 1995, the plans for the league dissolved. Flood died of throat cancer and is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York, houses a file on Flood. See Flood with Richard Carter, The Way It Is (1971); Lee Lowenfish and Tony Lupien, The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball's Reserve System and the Men Who Fought to Change It (1980); and Marvin Miller, A Whole Different Ball Game: The Inside Story of Baseball's New Deal (1992).

Corey Seeman