Born: January 18, 1938; Houston, Texas
Died: January 20, 1997; Los Angeles, California
Played For: St. Louis Cardinals (1958-1969), Cincinnati Reds (1956-1957), Washington Senators (1971)
Curtis Charles Flood (January 18, 1938 – January 20, 1997) was a Major League Baseball center fielder, playing 15 seasons for the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and Washington Senators, who became one of the most transformative figures in baseball history.
Flood was an All-Star for three seasons and Gold Glove winner for seven consecutive seasons. He batted over .300 in six seasons and led the National League (NL) in hits (211) in 1964 and in singles, 1963, 1964, and 1968. Between 1960 and 1969, Flood amassed 1,690 total hits, bested only by five players; Roberto Clemente (1,877), Hank Aaron (1,819), Vada Pinson (1,776), Maury Wills (1,744), and Brooks Robinson (1,692).
He led the NL in putouts as center fielder four times and in fielding percentage as center fielder three times. His record for 226 consecutive error-less games for a NL center fielder stood for nearly half a century. Flood retired with the third most games in center field (1,683) in NL history, trailing Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn.
He was part of three NL pennant-winning teams for the Cardinals, winning the World Series in 1964, 1967, and losing in seven games to Detroit in 1968.
Flood became a pivotal figure in the sport’s labor history when he refused to accept a trade following the 1969 season, writing to then MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn:
“Dear Mr. 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. 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 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.
Kuhn refused to exempt Flood from the “reserve clause”, a stipulation in all MLB contracts since baseball’s earliest beginnings, that bound players to teams for life. Flood decided to sue baseball, ultimately appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although his legal challenge was unsuccessful, losing by a narrow 5-3 vote, Flood’s historic challenge of the reserve clause transcended baseball. He courageously sacrificed his career to take a stand for the rights of all players in professional sports, bringing the issue of free agency to the forefront of national discussion.
Flood fought his last courageous battle against throat cancer. He succumbed to the disease on January 20, 1997. He is survived by his second wife of ten years, Judy Pace, his children, Debbie, Gary (deceased), Curt, Jr., Shelly, Scott and Pamela A. Aguilar (daughter-in-law), three grandchildren, and one great grandchild.