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February 27, 2020

Members of Congress unite in call for Baseball Hall of Fame to elect Curt Flood

Credit: The Undefeated, William C. Rhoden

With Congress racked by division and discord, U.S. Rep. David Trone was looking for a cause — any cause — that Republicans and Democrats could embrace.

Trone found it: Curt Flood’s long overdue induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On Thursday, Trone (D-Md.) and three colleagues, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) held a news conference in Washington. The bipartisan group called on the Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee to nominate and elect Flood when the committee meets in December.

“This really resonates across both sides of the aisle,” Trone said during a recent interview. “Everybody in America, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, independent, white, black or brown, believes in the American dream and fairness and decency. Decency and fairness and justice. And we all believe in that at our core, in all parties, in all colors.’’

Trone polled colleagues in each party about supporting Flood. “I said, you know what, I’m going to go ahead and put together something in Congress and get everybody together, because Washington is such a broken community, nobody is doing stuff together.”

He added: “We ought to try where we can actually do something together to honor somebody who really paid a price. Curt Flood paid a pretty horrible price. He put everything on the line — his whole career, his whole life, he put it all out there on the line.

“It’s been really easy for people to come together and say, ‘You know what? We have to do something about this. Let’s do something decent for a change and speak to who America really is.’ ”

Flood was one of baseball’s greatest center fielders. He won seven consecutive Gold Gloves and was a major force on the Cardinals’ 1964 and 1967 World Series championship teams.

In October 1969, Flood was traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia after a 12-year career with the Cardinals. On Christmas Eve 1969, Flood wrote a letter to baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, igniting a movement that would change sports forever. Flood refused the trade. His letter served notice that baseball’s reserve clause, which bound players to their current team, was no longer acceptable.

On Jan. 16, 1970, Flood filed a civil lawsuit against Kuhn challenging the reserve clause. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking suit.

When Trone proposed sending a letter to the Golden Era Committee, he was surprised by the positive response he received. “Everybody was very excited and very enthusiastic, so we got the letter put together,” he said. “It’s totally bipartisan.”

Congresswoman Wagner, a lifelong Cardinals fan said her involvement in the Flood initiative is rooted in her loyalty to the Cardinals and desire to correct an injustice.

“It was the 50th anniversary. That was the driving factor behind this,” she said. “Congressman Trone, Senator Blunt, Congressman Clay and I are all huge Cardinal fans and certainly believe that Curt Flood should have been in the Hall of Fame well before now.”

Wagner added: “ My entire state and all the Cardinals fans around the country and the world want to see Curt Flood in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame, so the timing was right and I am just honored to play a part of this history.”

In Trone’s letter, he wrote: “Thanks to Mr. Flood’s courageous act to not accept a trade and to the efforts of Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller, the reserve clause eventually ended in December 1975. Mr. Flood and Mr. Miller are directly responsible for the current free agency system that MLB players enjoy today.”

The letter added: “Mr. Flood refused to be traded, becoming the first player in MLB history to reject a trade. At the time, players were still bound to a team for life by the so-called ‘reserve clause.’ Simply put, a player was a team’s property. Mr. Flood demanded the Baseball Commissioner declare him a free agent on Christmas Eve 1969. Commissioner Kuhn denied Mr. Flood’s request, so he filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball. The case (Flood v. Kuhn) reached the Supreme Court in 1972. In a 5-3 ruling, the Court sided with the MLB and against Mr. Flood.”

Flood’s courageous stand in 1969 cracked baseball’s foundation and in 1975 the walls came tumbling down when pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally won their arbitration cases, effectively giving players their freedom and a victory most thought they never would see.

Tim McCarver, a teammate of Flood’s who was included in the 1969 trade, said that at the time, players were stunned and frightened by Flood’s act of defiance.

“I had no idea that any player would ever test a reserve clause, and it would take that player sacrificing the rest of his career, as Marvin Miller told Curt, for it to be effective,” he said during an ESPN interview last month. Miller was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame.

McCarver also lamented the fact that Flood’s fellow players, who would so richly benefit from his actions, left Flood alone on an island.

“I’m a bit regretful of that,” he said. “I don’t know that we, as baseball players with Curt, really gave him the support that he needed. I think we could have done a better job at supporting Curt with what he was entertaining to do. In essence, he was by himself, and that’s a heavy burden.”

Flood died in 1997 after a battle with throat cancer. However, his legacy lives on with every contract a free agent player signs. Indeed, pitcher Gerrit Cole acknowledged Flood when he met the media after signing with the New York Yankees.

Trone and a growing chorus of voices want Flood properly memorialized with an enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Flood raised his voice in protest and defiance during the tumultuous 1960s, which were marked by church bombings and sanctioned state violence. “And in that atmosphere, Flood just stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this isn’t right. I’m not a piece of property,’ ” Trone said.

“We ought to honor him for that. Maybe I can lend my voice, the bully pulpit of Congress in a bipartisan way.”