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Curt Flood Trial and Appeals: 1970-72

Flood's Conditioning, The Playoffs, Three Strikes …, Extra Innings, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiff: Curt Flood
Defendants: Commissioner of baseball, presidents of the National League and American League, and owners of all 24 major league baseball clubs
Plaintiff Claim: Organized baseball does fall under the definition of interstate commerce and is a monopoly; therefore the trading of baseball players without their agreement is an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Law.

Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Trial: Arthur J. Goldberg, Jay Topkis; Supreme Court: Arthur J. Goldberg
Chief Defense Lawyers: Trial: Mark Hughes, Victor Kramer; Supreme Court: Lou Hoynes, Paul Porter
Judge: Trial: Irving Ben Cooper; Final Appeal: U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Warren Burger presiding
Places: Trial: New York, New York; Final Appeal: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trial and Final Appeal: Trial: May 19-June 10, 1970; Decision, August 12, 1970. Final Appeal Heard: March 20, 1972; decision, June 19, 1972
Decisions: Trial: Flood's suit rejected. Supreme Court: Lower courts' findings upheld, 5-3

SIGNIFICANCE: Although Curt Flood lost in the trial and in the subsequent Supreme Court decision, his suit to break the reserve clause of organized baseball led the way to the end of this practice within a few years. By his independent and often reviled action, Flood had opened the door for baseball's "free agents," which undeniably led to the late twentieth century revolution in baseball players' salaries and team loyalties.

Americans had long adopted as one of their national "myths" that baseball played such a special role in their lives and society that even the major leagues differed from all other business operations. In particular, organized baseball's team owners had been able to defy the government's legal prohibition of restraint of trade by maintaining the sanctity of the so-called reserve clause. This refers to the agreement, first adopted by major league teams in 1879, to place their players "on reserve," meaning that so long as they were under contract to one team, they could not move to any other team. Conversely, the team could sell or trade the players at the owners' will. This practice was challenged over the years—by players' unions, by new leagues, by the occasional individual player—but to no avail. In fact, two Supreme Court rulings—one in 1922, the other in 1953—held that the Federal courts were powerless to regulate organized baseball, although in the latter case the justices advised Congress to effect legislation to do so. But not until 1970 was the reserve clause to be put to a true trial by a prominent player with much to lose, Curt Flood.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972