On October 8, 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals traded center fielder Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. At the time of the trade, Flood was thirty-one years old, at the top of his game and in the prime of his life. In professional baseball, trades are not uncommon. What was different about this trade was that Curtis Charles Flood refused to recognize the "right" of the Cardinals to trade him to another team without his consent. In doing so, Flood challenged a practice that was designed and enforced by the professional baseball club owners for over eighty years- a practice frequently referred to as the "reserve system". It was the late 1960s – a decade of great racial tension and unrest; the Vietnam War was dividing the country; and now Curt Flood, a black man, was challenging the lily-white major league baseball establishment.
On January 16, 1970, Curt Flood filed suit in the Federal District Court in New York against major league baseball alleging that baseball’s reserve system violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and Flood’s rights under federal law. Flood argued that once he signed a contract (in his case, when he was eighteen years old), he was owned by "his team" for life and that the reserve system was tantamount to slavery.
Flood’s decision to challenge major league baseball cost him his baseball career and much more. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of Flood’s claims and ruling (in 1972) that professional baseball was exempt from federal antitrust regulation, professional baseball players had "free agency" by 1975.
This is the story of Curt Flood’s case and trial against major league baseball and its aftermath.