On this date in history, June 19, 1972, the Supreme Court issued another (among a long list) stupid ruling. After a three year battle through the court system the Supreme Court stated that baseball was NOT a big business (packaged with liquor sales, broadcasting rights, and peanuts and cracker jacks —and therefore was exempt from anti-trust laws.
This ruling was based on a fight by one player, one of my favorites at the time, Curt Flood.
There was no such thing as free agency at that time in baseball. When a player signed with a club that club had exclusive rights to that player until he died or they decided to trade him.
Curt Flood signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 and didn’t play a lot and struggled at the plate when he did. The Reds traded him to St. Louis in 1957. For the next twelve years he was one of the finest center fielders in baseball. He was also one of the best hitters in baseball, seven times hitting above .300, once leading the big leagues in hits and seven times the most base hits, seven times gold glove fielder and on the all-star starting line-up three times.
In 1969, the Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. Privately Curt Flood believed the Philly fan-base was loaded with racist fans and he didn’t want to pack up his family and move there. So he sent the following letter to the baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn–
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
He was asking for “free agency.” What? No way! Unheard of up til now. Since the establishment of major league baseball, a player was tied to one franchise for life…period. When your contract was up, they either gave you a new contract or traded you. You had no choice in the matter.
On June 19, 1972, the Supreme Court ruled against Curt Flood. He had sat-out the 1969 season while the battle was raging in the lower courts. He received an average of four death threats every day. He never played baseball again.
Three years later, 1975, two players tried again for free agency. This time it was decided by an arbitrator. He ruled in their favor and today free agency is as common in baseball as cracker jacks.
The year Curt Flood wrote his letter to baseball, 1969, there was a collective bargaining agreement between the players union and management to raise the minimum baseball salary from $6000 per year (which it had been stuck there for twenty years) to $10,000 per year.
I believe it’s slightly higher now. ($509,000 with the average of all players being $3.82 million per year)