MLBPA's Clark to pay tribute to Flood at Hall of Fame ceremony

Players Association executive director Tony Clark will be among those paying special tribute to Curt Flood during Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Saturday, noting the courageous stand and sacrifices the speedy center fielder made on behalf of his fellow players.

Flood embodied everything the Players Association stands for back in 1970 when in the early days of the union he walked away during the peak of his player career to legally challenge the "reserve clause" that bounded players to their teams.

Through the 1969 season, Flood's last before the court challenge, he had posted a .302 career batting average and was also widely recognized as having succeeded Willie Mays as the game's greatest defensive center fielder. He had earned seven straight Gold Glove Awards and set a record for consecutive games without an error by an outfielder.

Until 1969, players knew Flood as a soft-spoken superstar on the field, a fast, slender guy who chased down line drives in the gaps and stole hits from them. It wasn't until his selfless challenge of the reserve clause that he also became known to players as their hero.

It was a proud and galvanizing moment in Players Association history in December 1969 when Flood came to the Players Association's executive board meeting in Puerto Rico and, at the behest of union founder Marvin Miller, asked the players to support his legal battle.

Giving their financial and moral support to Flood that winter was a key moment in players coming together as a fraternity. Flood surely knew that he was fighting for all players, and players knew Flood was fighting on their behalf as well.

Flood lost his case before the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-3 decision in June 1972. But by then the players were well attuned to the struggle for free agency -- a right taken for granted in any other professional occupation -- and were not going to be denied.

Just three years later, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally refused to sign contract extensions, challenged the reserve clause before a neutral arbitrator (another right the players had recently won in collective bargaining) and won the right of free agency for all players.