"As players we appreciate that we're all links in a chain," Clark told former players, executives, fans and media attending a Hall of Fame tribute to Flood on Saturday at Doubleday Field. "We appreciate that we're part of a brotherhood, a very select brotherhood. We also appreciate that we have a responsibility as players to leave the game better than it was than when we came in."
"It is that commitment to leaving the game better that puts our fraternity and separates our fraternity ... There are very few that had the commitment and embodied that commitment more than Curt Flood."
Through the 1969 season, Flood's last before he legally challenged the reserve clause, 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.
Clark, who played in the Major Leagues for 15 years, recalled a trip to Cooperstown as a Minor Leaguer that helped him understand the interconnectivity and shared experience that bonds the fewer than 20,000 men who have played baseball at its highest level.
"Our game and our foundation have been laid on the backs of giants," Clark said. "And if we understand and appreciate and respect that, if we understand and appreciate the sacrifices that were made, if we understand and appreciate the sacrifices that Curt Flood made, we will all be better for it.
"So, to all those who have paved the way, to all those who laid the groundwork for myself and others to wear the uniform, thank you."