Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights

By Tony McClean
Updated: April 1, 2006

“Curt Flood was the most prominent player to ever expose the inequities of an immoral and unjust system. Ultimately, his legacy is one of sacrifice and education.”

— Author Alex Belth
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — With baseball set to open a new season, it’s important to look back and remember its past. Especially in regards to team owner and player relations.
In the long history of baseball terms and phrases, the center fielder is considered as the man alone on his own island.
As a perennial Gold Glove outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960’s, Curt Flood played center field with several Hall of Famers including Bob Gibson and Orlando Cepeda.
However, when St. Louis tried to trade the veteran to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, Flood took a bold step and decided to challenge baseball’s “reserve clause” a year later.
Much like on the field, he would truly become a man on his own island off the field.
In his new book, “Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood and His Fight For Baseball Players’ Rights”, author Alex Belth revisits one of the most significant moments in baseball’s history.
The book covers Flood’s life from his younger days while growing up in Oakland, California. It also chronicles his rise from dealing with racism in the minor leagues to making it in the majors.
While telling Flood’s story, Belth also takes a interesting look at the game of baseball during the 60’s in regards to race relations, salaries, and other related topics. “In looking back at his story, I think Flood intellectually knew what he was getting into”, Belth added.
“However, emotionally he really was not equipped for the kind of fallback he would receive from the owners, his fellow players, and his friends. What makes him so compelling as a dramatic figure is that he combined an incredible sense of toughness with some vulnerability”.
Belth added that Flood’s mental and physical strength came from being a slightly built player (listed as 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds for most of his career) who was able persevere over many obstacles on and off the field during his career.
Ironically, Flood’s first introduction to the business of professional baseball came early in his career after making his MLB debut as an 18-year old with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956.
After being given an assurance by Cincinnati management that he was going to be a major part of the Reds’ organization, Flood was traded to the Cardinals after two minor stints with the Redlegs.
While the trade would eventually be the impetus to his great career in St. Louis, it was also something that always played in the back of his mind throughout his baseball career.
Flood’s case against Major League Baseball was filed on January 16, 1970, stating that baseball had violated the nation’s anti-trust laws. The case would eventually go to the Supreme Court who upheld the District Court and Court of Appeals rulings in favor of Major League Baseball.
While Flood lost, his case proved to be a impetus that the players association needed when the reserve clause was challenged years later. In 1975, pitchers Andy Messersmith (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Dave McNally (Baltimore Orioles) filed grievances against the reserve clause and won in arbitration.
Were it not for Flood’s stand in 1970, the salaries we see now in all sports, especially in baseball, would not be possible.
Belth’s book gives a vivid account of the life and times of one of sport’s true pioneers. This is a must must read for fans of baseball or any sport.