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Curt Flood is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which might be somewhat confounding if you’ve already forgotten that Marvin Miller was only just elected to partake in Cooperstown’s brand of immortality. Flood, though, deserves the recognition that enshrinement brings as well: he was a fine player, better than plenty of others who are in the Hall, but even if that weren’t true, he merits entry into Cooperstown’s halls for his role in bringing down MLB’s reserve clause.
It’s fair to argue, solely for Flood’s on-field, penciled-into-the-lineup contributions, that he didn’t have a Hall of Fame career, for the same reasons you’d say that, I don’t know, J.D. Drew didn’t have a Hall of Famer career*. It is far less fair, though, to say that Flood doesn’t deserve enshrinement in a place with “Fame” in its name. He refused a trade, writing a letter to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn to explain his reasoning for the refusal, and then challenged the reserve clause in the form of Curt Flood v. Bowie Kuhn. While Flood’s case against Kuhn ended in defeat, it still brought the reserve clause and its problems into the public consciousness, and the subsequent challenge of the clause and success of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally doesn’t happen without Flood opening the fl… well, you know.
*J.D. Drew was great, but his career wasn’t quite long enough to be immortalized, and the same argument could be made for Flood, who, from the perspective of something like wins above replacement, matches up well with Drew. And hey, both of them angered the Phillies for refusing to play in Philadelphia despite Philly’s “rights” to the player in question!
I wrote about Flood’s letter to Kuhn on the 50th anniversary a couple of years ago, closing with this:
Flood, of course, should be in the Hall of Fame for his actions that helped pioneer the landscape of MLB and players’ rights as we know them. That obviously was never enough to sway voters, not even in conjunction with an impressive career cut short. Like with Marvin Miller, who was only recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, the system doesn’t want to reward those who challenge it, and challenging the system, more than his playing career, maybe more so than with any other player, is why you know the name of Curt Flood all these years and decades later.
I’m far from alone in this feeling, but now someone in the United States Congress apparently agrees with the sentiment. Representative David Trone, who hails from Maryland, sent a letter to the Hall of Fame trying to convince their board to take it upon themselves to induct Flood into Cooperstown. While the article doesn’t have much in the way of direct quotation from Trone, the Congressman did tweet about the letter, saying, “Baseball’s Hall of Fame is not complete without three-time all-star and father of the free agency system: Curt Flood. His commitment to strengthening labor rights and prolific career on the field deserve to be recognized.”
He’s not wrong! Flood’s career ended because of his commitment to what was right, because of his saying that, “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. 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.” He played during a time where the commissioner could respond to this with “I agree you are not a piece of property, however” and that was just kind of the end of the discussion, since the debate was about Flood’s recognition that the system was broken and unfair, and Kuhn’s role in this, as the commissioner of MLB working for the owners who relied on this system, was to respond that sure, it was unfair, but more importantly, it was legal.
So, Flood challenged the legality of this broken system. And while his attempt to get it shut down failed, it wouldn’t take much longer for the Players Association to get more players willing to challenge the reserve clause, which would result in the breaking of it that Flood had hoped for. Tragically, Flood never did benefit from the ending of the reserve clause, since his career ended in 1971. And any induction into Cooperstown would be posthumous, which is just another layer of tragedy heaped on top of a story already rife with it. That shouldn’t stop Cooperstown from doing the right thing now, though.
Flood’s story, what he did, what he fought against, should not be forgotten. And while Cooperstown is just one way of remembering what he did for the game and its players — an education on Curt Flood is something at least some players make sure continues to be passed on — it’s one of the most visible. The man deserves to be remembered. An induction into the Hall of Fame is just one way to do that, but it’s one he deserves as much as anyone else, since the game as we know it today is a direct result of his challenge of the game he himself played. I don’t know what kind of influence Representative Trone has in Cooperstown, but hopefully, whatever string can be pulled gets pulled.
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