Curt Flood is best known today as the player who challenged the baseball reserve system in the early 1970′s which led to free agency. Most people don’t realize he lost his case, and that he had appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Flood lost his personal battle and war, but it did start the movement toward what became today’s standard of arbitration and free agency. The stalwart “stable” teams of the 1970′s (think Reds and Dodgers) were somewhat a remnant of days gone by when players were somewhat indentured servants to baseball ownership. We lament the day the Big Red Machine was broken up, and it came as a result (and with the consequences and benefits) of player’s being given what seems to be obvious rights.
What is sometimes lost today is that Flood was an outstanding centerfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. Originally a Reds property, Flood was one of the first steps in what was becoming a growing tide of Reds farm system talent that was reaching maturity. Frank Robinson had been signed in 1953, Vada Pinson, Cookie Rojas, and Curt Flood in 1956, Claude Osteen, Tony Gonzalez, Leo Cardenas, Jay Hook, and Mike Cuellar in 1957, Jim O’Toole in 1958, Jim Maloney, Johnny Edwards, and Cesar Tovar in 1959, and Tommy Harper, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose in 1960. It was a huge run of big time talents that could have set up a Reds dynasty in the early 1960′s rather than having to wait for later.
According to “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders“, Flood was signed at age 18 and starred in the same rookie league as Willie McCovey…only Flood was better leading the league in hitting (.340) and walks (102) while slugging 29 homers. In 1957, the Reds moved him to 3B and then later to 2B, which slowed his development and probably cost him his career with the Reds; he was traded the next spring to St. Louis Neyer quotes Flood’s autobiography:
The Reds wished me luck. Hail and fairwell. I learned later that Cincinnati had been impressed by Vada Pinson’s work during his first minor-league season, 1957. Because he (Pinson) was the bigger of us, and the faster, and because they neither needed me for third base nor particularly for an all-black outfield of Robinson, Pinson and Flood, they unloaded me to the Cards.”
Neyer questions the fairness of Flood’s comments, noting that Pinson was the better player (baseball historian Bill James rates Pinson as 18th best centerfielder ever, Flood 36th), and that the Reds had hitters Jerry Lynch and later Wally Post in leftfield before giving way to Tommy Harper in 1963, giving the Reds an all-black outfield. Neyer doesn’t mention that the Reds also had fan favorite Gus Bell on the team and later even moved Robinson to 1B to try to make room for more hitting to take advantage of the short Crosley Field fences. Flood wasn’t a power hitter and probably didn’t fit the team’s “offensive strategy.” Also…as for third base, the Reds had Don Hoak playing there, but dealt him a year later and had trouble filling the position after Hoak’s trade.
However, trading Flood was foolish. Some believe he was a better centerfielder than Willie Mays, and he was a leadoff hitter type of that era and a good one at that. Flood twice had more than 200 hits in a season, batted over .300 five different times (career .293), won seven straight Gold Gloves, and even finished fourth in the MVP balloting in 1968 at age 30. His career essentially ended one season later when the Cardinals dealt him to the Phillies and he refused to report to the Philadelphia team. Flood set out the 1970 season and retired after playing 13 games in 1971 for the Washington Senators.
Flood was a better player than Harper, and a better player than Gordy Coleman who played 1b on the 1961 World Series team. Flood was a better player than Lynch and Post, and Bell had declined to .255 with three homers for the 1961 World Series team. Flood batted .322 that season.
With Flood in the outfield instead of Harper, I suspect the Reds would have won the National League pennant in 1964. Harper batted .243 with four homers playing left field. For the Cardinals, Flood hit .311 with five homers, 211 hits, and won a Gold Glove. The Reds finished tied with the Phillies for second place…one game behind Flood’s team the Cardinals.
As for the other guys in the deal? The Reds also traded Taylor, who was a reserve outfielder who played 119 lifetime games. The Reds received three relief pitchers: Marty Kutyna never pitched for the Reds, Ted Wieand pitched six major league innings, and Willard Schmidt gave the Reds two good years out of the bullpen.
Not commonly discussed, this was one of the worst Reds deals in history. Fortunately, it didn’t cost the Reds the 1961 National League championship, but I feel it adversely affected them over the next decade. Even worse, Flood wasn’t the only one of this talented group of young free agent signings that the Reds essentially gave away.
Oh, one more piece of trivia from this story. Ted Wieand’s given name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wieand, but was called Ted. May be for Teddy Roosevelt, the other Roosevelt president?