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January 18: Curt Flood and Marvin Miller

Lawrence Bush
January 18, 2017
Three-time All-Star baseball player Curt Flood (a .293 lifetime hitter in fifteen seasons), who reached out to Marvin Miller to sue Major League Baseball in 1969 in defiance of the “reserve clause” — a case that reached the Supreme Court and helped transform the status of professional baseball players — was born in Houston, Texas on this date in 1938. The reserve clause bound players to teams for life, and when Flood was threatened with a trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia, he balked. Miller, a former economist and strategist for the United Steelworkers Union, had been elected head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966 and had negotiated the players’ first union contract in 1968. When Flood came to him, Miller recalled, “I told him that given the courts’ history of bias towards the owners and their monopoly, he didn’t have a chance in hell of winning. More important than that, I told him even if he won, he’d never get anything out of it—he’d never get a job in baseball again.” But Flood had already sued Major League Baseball and its commissioner, Bowie Kuhn. When the case reached the Supreme Court in 1972, Flood was represented by Arthur Goldberg. The suit was lost and Flood was blackballed from baseball (and subjected to racism and hatred from many baseball fans), but his courage led to a flood of actions by players against the reserve clause, which was significantly altered in subsequent years in ways that transferred a good deal of power from club owners to players. “I’m a human being, I’m not a piece of property. I am not a consignment of goods.” --Curt Flood

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.