Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Curt Flood

Editor’s note: Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? was a past regular feature here. It will resume on a weekly basis the first Tuesday after the postseason ends.

Claim to fame: Flood hit .293 over 15 seasons and was one of the best outfielders of his generation, winning seven straight Gold Gloves from 1963 to 1969. But he’s known more for what he did after all this when he protested a December 1969 trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, informing the commissioner at the time, Bowie Kuhn that he wanted to consider other offers before signing a contract. Kuhn feigned ignorance, hiding behind baseball’s Reserve Clause, and Flood filed suit to challenge. Though Flood lost in the Supreme Court in 1972, his playing career by then done, his effort almost certainly helped bring about the demise of the Reserve Clause a few years later.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Flood exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1996 when he peaked at 15.1 percent of the vote. He died the following year at 59, which leaves him now as a posthumous candidate for the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Short answer, yes, though labor pioneers are woefully under-represented in Cooperstown. Flood or former player’s association head Marvin Miller might be the most egregious snubs, though many other players may deserve more recognition as well. There’s 19th century great Lip Pike who signed baseball’s first professional contract, $20 to play for Philadelphia in 1866. And much as credit is due to Flood for combating the Reserve Clause, it might still be in effect had Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally not played the 1975 season without contracts so they could become free agents. Don’t forget arbitrator Peter Seitz who struck down the clause in a historic ruling after that season and who was fired within minutes by the owners for his handiwork.

All this being said, Flood might be the Jackie Robinson of the labor movement, and he’s long overdue for his Cooperstown plaque. True, his statistics don’t suggest automatic enshrinement, what with him having less than 2,000 hits, a career WAR of 35.9, and an OPS+ of 100. Still, the Hall of Fame has never been entirely about numbers, and for contributions above stats, Flood looks like an easy choice. His spirit, courage, and willingness to take a stand represent what makes baseball great, at least to me. I view Flood in the same way as Robinson or Detroit Tigers great and Jewish hero Hank Greenberg, who incidentally testified for the embattled player in court. It’s a spirit baseball should be looking to commemorate, not forget. If the Hall of Fame isn’t the place for this, I don’t know what is.

The question is if the traditionally conservative Veterans Committee will honor Flood or any of the other men here. That’s no sure thing. The committee passed on Miller yet again in December, and at 94, there’s an increasing chance he’ll die before he gets a plaque. That’s too bad. After Flood, I only wish baseball would learn.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? was formerly a Tuesday feature here. It will relaunch following the postseason.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Bobby Grich, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Roger Maris, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Tony Oliva, Will Clark