Curt Flood, who would have been 71 today, had a nice little career with the Cardinals in the late fifties and throughout the sixties, picking up a few MVP votes and actually finishing fourth in 1968. Flood is scarcely remembered for his player career, though. His baseball legacy was his challenging of the reserve clause when the Cardinals tried to deal him to a dreadful Phillies team before the 1970 season. Flood refused to report to the Phillies, and instead petitioned Major League Baseball for the right to sign with whomever he chose. His letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn stated his intentions clearly:
December 24, 1969
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.
Kuhn rebuffed Flood's attempt at free agency, so Flood turned around and sued Major League Baseball for violating antitrust laws. The case eventually went to the US Supreme Court, which favored MLB's case by a 5-3 majority.
Flood was subsequently traded by the Phillies to the Washington Senators but played only thirteen games in 1971 before retiring. Four years later Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally helped strike down the reserve clause for good, but Flood's earlier battle revealed a chink in the owners' armor that helped facilitate the players' drive to free agency.
Happy Birthday, Curt.