Flood vs. Kuhn: Part 1
In my last column I looked at baseball at a few of the lessons baseball can teach us about democracy. This time I want to explore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 Flood vs Kuhn decision. The case arose when Curt Flood, a player for the St. Louis Cardinals, refused to be traded and sued Major League Baseball. including commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Over the years, there have been many challenges to baseball’s antitrust exemption. But Flood’s case was in many ways the most important. It left a lasting mark, not just on baseball but on the Court that made it.
In 1969, Flood, a 12 year veteran for the Cardinals, a three-time all-star, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for three ballplayers.
Philadelphia was the worst club in baseball, the last team to integrate, and the most unwelcoming. Fans shouted taunts and threats at Jackie Robinson. The team’s first black all-star Dick Allen was virtually run out of Philly and was glad to be traded for Curt Flood.
Marvin Miller, who at the time was head of the Major League Baseball Players Association believed the way to challenge baseball’s antitrust exemption was through arbitration not legal battles.
But Flood approached Miller about the suing Major League baseball, then wrote a letter to acting commissioner Bowie Kuhn declaring himself a free agent. His request was rejected. On June 19, 1972, his case went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled 5-3 in favor of Major League Baseball.
Flood lost his career became an alcoholic and died of throat cancer in 1997. However ,his battle uplifted the lives of other players. In 1975, a federal judge ruled that two players, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who played without a contract for one year, were free agents. That decision ushered in free agency in baseball as well as in other sports.
The Flood decision has been remembered as an embarrassment to the nation’s highest court. Flood’s sacrifice should be remembered as an act of great altruism.