Curt Flood auction offers pieces of history

BY foxsports • November 10, 2009

Associate Press Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Earlier this year, Bob Gibson auctioned off his Hall of Fame ring. This month, there's a price tag on the base Lou Brock touched to break the stolen base record.

Those two have nothing on another St. Louis Cardinals star of the 1960s. Beyond the Gold Gloves, signed balls, gloves and the like, Curt Flood's estate is offering bidders an opportunity this weekend to purchase true history.

Gibson and Brock are in the Hall of Fame. Flood is remembered most not for .293 batting average or his seven Gold Gloves but as the player who 40 years ago paved the way for free agency. His auction includes several artifacts from that crusade.

"He changed the way they do business in the world of sports," said Flood's widow, Judy Pace Flood, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He challenged the rules. He is the father of free agency.

"I think every professional athlete should thank God for Curt Flood and I think every sports agent should have a little shrine that says 'Curt Flood, thank you.'"

Flood, who died at age 59 in 1997, took on baseball's reserve clause when he refused a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies shortly after the 1969 season. The challenge and the legal battle that ensued effectively ended his career.

But it prompted a radical overhaul of major league baseball's power structure, ushering in free agency and rapidly escalating salaries for players.

"If you take a step back and reflect on how significant that time period was for the game, it was monumental," said David Hunt of Hunt Auctions, which is running the Flood sale. "It doesn't matter which side of the fence you were on, it fundamentally changed the way they've done business."

In auctions running through Nov. 18, Brock is also selling his 1967 World Series ring, a home jersey worn in 1974 when he broke the single-season stolen base record and an original Leroy Neiman painting of the "Base Burglar" executing a slide.

Brock signed with Legendary Auctions after Gibson's sale in July with the same company netted more than $500,000. Gibson cashed in on a memorable 1968 season in which he posted a 1.12 ERA that prompted baseball to lower the pitching mound, selling his 1968 National League MVP and CY Young awards.

Gibson also auctioned World Series rings from 1967 and 2006, when the Cardinals recognized his role as a team consultant, and his Hall of Fame plaque.

"I saw how great Gibby's collection did," Brock said. "So it really was an easy decision."

The Flood items occupy 18 pages of a 214-page book previewing Saturday's auction at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory in Louisville, Ky.

The big ticket items are baseball stuff: his first Gold Glove from 1963 ($5,000-$7,000), his 1964 World Series ring ($15,000-$20,000); and a framed portrait of Gibson ($3,000-$4,000) done by Flood, an accomplished artist.

But there is also an autographed copy of the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court report on Flood vs. Bowie Kuhn laying the groundwork for free agency (expected to fetch around $500).

A copy of a letter from Flood to Kuhn requesting free agency along with correspondence from Flood's Baseball Network, co-founded by Flood to promote the hiring of minorities in professional sports, has an estimated value of more than $1,000.

Flood's status as a trailblazer is reflected in a baseball signed by Rosa Parks ($1,000-$1,500) in 1994. Pace Flood believes it's the only baseball ever signed by the civil rights pioneer.

"It gives me chills when I think of the connection -- the mother of civil rights and the father of free agency," Mrs. Flood said.

Pace Flood, an actress who lives in Los Angeles, hopes to establish scholarships and distribute money to family members with proceeds from the auction. On the 40th anniversary of Flood's stand, she said, she wanted to make sure the public didn't forget the sacrifices.

"I think this is going to be a wonderful way of keeping his name out there," Pace Flood said. "How he decided he was not a piece of meat. How he brought baseball into the 20th century.

"I just don't see the joy of having Curt's things sit in boxes, and I don't think Curt would want that, either."