The drama of modern free agency has become as much a part of professional sports as the games themselves. But it wasn’t always that way. Today’s free agents owe a big debt of gratitude to Curt Flood.

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The Birth of Free Agency

On the morning of October 8, 1969, just days after the end of a disappointing season for the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood was told that he was being traded to Philadelphia. The veteran center fielder didn’t want to go. However, baseball players did not have a say in where they played, thanks to a court-protected “reserve clause” allowing team owners to perpetually renew their contracts.

Flood wanted control over his life – describing himself as a “well-paid slave,” he invoked the spirit of the civil rights movement, and highlighted demographic tensions at play between team owners and professional athletes. By taking a stand Flood put the power dynamic of America’s sports on trial, both in the court of law and of public opinion, and championed a movement that forever changed the game.

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