Baseball Pioneer Curt Flood Dies

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LOS ANGELES: Curt Flood, the former St. Louis Cardinals center fielder who died Monday of throat cancer at 59, was a premier player, a seven-time Gold Glove winner who hit over .300 six times from 1956-71 and helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1964 and 1967. But it was Flood's defiance of baseball's reserve clause, which prohibited players from choosing the teams they played for, that brought free-agency to baseball and changed the game forever. Flood, traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season, refused to report, instead applying to Bowie Kuhn to be declared a free agent. He was denied. Claiming that baseball had violated anti-trust laws, Flood filed a lawsuit that reached all the way to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled against him in 1972. The legal battle cost Flood the 1970 season, and ultimately his career. But in 1975, an arbitrator granted free agency to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, in effect ending the reserve system and clearing the way for the free agent system. On the day of Flood's death, that legacy was not lost on today's players. "Every major league baseball player owes Curt Flood a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid," pitchers David Cone and Tom Glavine, the current AL and NL player representatives, said in a statement. "With the odds overwhelmingly against him, he was willing to take a stand for what he knew was right." Flood's fight was not about greed but about rights, about raising the status of players above that of commodity. Many of today's fans look at free-agency today and see sky-high salaries, labor strife, and disappearing team loyalty; for many, Flood's legacy has turned sour. But those remembering Flood described a quiet, noble man, who undoubtedly had something better in mind.