Curt Flood's Suit of Baseball

If the newspaper was typical, it lied that a victory for Flood
would mean the collapse of our national pastime. God prophaned!
Flag desecrated! Motherhood defiled! Apple pie blasphemed!

--Curt Flood, The Way It Is

On January 16, 1970, Curt Flood shocked the baseball world and America by filing suit against Major League Baseball and its reserve clause. Baseball had faced legal challenges in the past, but never had a player of Flood's caliber attempted to assail the game's sacred clause--which effectively bound a player and his contract to a team for life. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder had earned three All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves, and a pair of World Series championships. Furthermore, Flood earned $90,000 a year yet accused baseball of violating of the 13th amendment, barring slavery and involuntary servitude. With a few exceptions, the public and the media initially reacted to Flood's action in utter disbelief, branding the outfielder an ingrate, a destroyer, even a blasphemer.

Flood's case eventually climbed all the way to the Supreme Court. In the arguments, Flood's lawyer, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, put forth evidence that baseball's reserve clause violated the antitrust laws by depressing wages and limiting a player to one team. Baseball's defense team attempted to counter Goldberg's broad arguments for human and labor rights point-by-point, but the crux of baseball's argument dealt with such ideas as tradition and "The Good of the Game." It is my contention that baseball, America's oldest and most loved game, stood as a broader symbol for the ways of the past, and that the largely abstract and myth-shattering arguments of Flood and his lawyer represent a very similar type of reform thought embodied in the Civil Rights Movement and campus protest.

Through the course of the case, Flood gained more of the public's sympathy as the truly antiquarian nature of the reserve clause became known. The remarkable thing then was that Flood lost the case. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of baseball 5-3, not on the strength of their case, but on a strange line of thought that combined a liberal use of stare decisis with a belief that baseball simply should stay the way it is.

In taking a close look at this case and the issues that spun around it, I intend to gain an insight into an important historical event and provide a glimpse into America as a whole. Coming at the end of a decade of change, with campus violence reaching its peak, Flood attacked perhaps the archetypal American institution, and the ideas and reactions pertaining to the case illustrate much about the complex political and ideological questions America faced at the time. So with no further ado, let us don our ball caps, grab a hot dog, sing a round of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and prepare for an important look into our national pastime and our nation.

Baseball Myths Labor History Flood's Life Flood and the 60s Black Power Breaking the Deal The Courts Legacies

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Maintained by Pat Brady
Last Modified: December 21, 1997