Curt Flood – The Plaintiff Who Changed Baseball Forever

Associate Kevin Rayhill of the Joseph Saveri Law Firm, LLP, has written an article published in the California Daily Journal regarding a seminal antitrust lawsuit brought by baseball player Curt Flood. The suit, adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court 50 years ago, challenged the sport’s reserve clause. The full article provides a historical and legal analysis of the below summary:

Flood played for several years for the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals and was anointed by Sports Illustrated as “Baseball’s Best Center Fielder” in a 1968 cover story. After the 1969 season, he was traded without consent to the Philadelphia Phillies in a seven-player swap.

Flood faced two options: retire or accept the trade. Offering his services to another bidder was prohibited due to baseball’s reserve clause, which gave a club the right to renew a player’s contract for a one-year period in perpetuity unless he was given his unconditional release – effectively binding him to his team for his career. The clause allowed owners to keep labor costs artificially low and profits high.

Flood contemplated a third option: suing Major League Baseball for violating the Sherman Act. After conferring with Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Flood committed to pursuing the case to benefit current and future players

Flood’s lawsuit against baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn and baseball’s management commenced in the Southern District of New York in January 1970. Later that August, the Court ruled in favor of baseball. In April 1971, the Second Circuit affirmed.

Flood appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard his case in March 1972. Three months later, the Court narrowly ruled against Flood. But his legal efforts educated his fellow players and the public about the reserve clause’s unfairness. Changes quickly ensued, leading to increased salaries and freedom of movement for professional baseball players. The sport’s economics and management-player relationships were forever changed. As a result, Time named Flood one of the ten most influential athletes of the 20th century.