On August 12, 1970, St. Louis Cardinal's Curt Flood lost his $4.1 million antitrust suit against baseball, as Federal Judge Irving Ben Cooper upheld the legality of the sport's reserve clause which did not afford players this option. Many thought the ruling would abolish the notion of players having the right to choose where they wanted to play professionally.
Flood's letter to baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn in December of 1969 demanded that he be declared a free agent:
After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.
“It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.
After being denied, Flood was traded to the Washington Senators in 1971, but the drain of the lawsuit, sitting out the previous season and his frequent drinking made him a shell of the player he was in St. Louis. He left the team midseason.
Four years later, the reserve clause was struck down for good when arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally could become free agents after playing the previous season without contracts. So while Flood’s challenge of the clause was ultimately not what got it banished, it was the catalyst that made it happen.
Flood’s sacrifice is not often celebrated the way that it should be by today's professional athlete, however it is important to remind them all of who paved the way for not only their rights but also the extra zeros at the end of their paychecks.