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FLOOD v. KUHN

August 12, 1970

Curtis C. Flood, Plaintiff
v.
Bowie K. Kuhn, Individually and as Commissioner of Baseball, Charles S. Feeney, Individually and as President of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Joseph E. Cronin, Individually and as President of the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Atlanta Braves, Inc., Chicago National League Ball Club, The Cincinnati Reds, Inc., The Houston Sports Assn., Los Angeles Dodgers, Inc., Montreal Baseball Club Ltd., Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc., Philadelphia National League Club, Pittsburgh Athletic Co., Inc., St. Louis National Baseball Club, Inc., San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants' Baseball Club, Baltimore Baseball Club, Inc., Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Inc., Detroit Baseball Club, New York Yankees, Inc., The Washington Senators, Inc., Golden West Baseball Co., Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals Baseball Club, Minnesota Twins, Inc., Oakland Athletics, and Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc., Defendants


Cooper, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: COOPER

COOPER, District Judge.

On October 8, 1969, Curtis C. Flood, then a major league professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, was "traded," his contract transferred and assigned to another National League baseball club, the Philadelphia Phillies, as part of a multi-player transaction between the two clubs. At the time of the trade he was thirty-two years old, a veteran of twelve years service with the Cardinals, co-captain of the team, and acknowledged to be a player of exceptional and proven baseball ability. Unhappy and disappointed, Flood was unwilling to play for Philadelphia, but forbidden by his contract and the rules of organized professional baseball from negotiating with any other ball club.

 He initiated this action on January 16, 1970 against the twenty-four major league clubs comprising the American and National Leagues of organized baseball, their respective Presidents, and against the Commissioner of Baseball asserting in four separate causes of action that baseball's "reserve system" is unlawful. *fn1" Briefly stated, the reserve system, commonly referred to as the "reserve clause," consists of a number of baseball rules, regulations and uniform contract terms which together operate to bind a player to a ball club and restrict him to negotiating with that club only.

 The first of plaintiff's four causes of action alleges that the reserve system constitutes a conspiracy among the defendants to boycott the plaintiff and to prevent him from playing baseball other than for the Philadelphia club in violation of the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts. His second and third causes of action are state law claims against eleven of the twenty-four club defendants *fn2" with jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. The second contends that the reserve system and defendants' practices thereunder constitute violations of the antitrust laws of New York, California and the other states where major league baseball is played and also violate state civil rights statutes, while the third contends that by the reserve system defendants have restrained the plaintiff's "free exercise of playing professional baseball in New York, California, and the several states in which defendants stage baseball games, in violation of the common law." His fourth cause of action, directed against thirteen club defendants and alleging federal question and civil rights jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, asserts that the reserve system is a form of peonage and involuntary servitude in violation of the anti-peonage statutes, 42 U.S.C. § 1994 and 18 U.S.C. § 1581, and the Thirteenth Amendment and that it deprives him of "freedom of labor" in violation of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 102-103.

 By way of relief plaintiff seeks a declaration of the illegality of baseball's reserve system, an injunction restraining defendants from agreeing among themselves to refuse him employment, and certain damages allegedly sustained since December 30, 1969 as a result of defendants' refusal to bargain with him as a free agent.

 Following the filing of his complaint, plaintiff moved before this Court on February 3, 1970 for a preliminary injunction declaring him a free agent, or, as we viewed it alternatively, permitting him to remain as a player for St. Louis pending a final determination of the merits. On March 4, 1970 we denied this application for an injunction pendente lite on the grounds that it would disturb the status quo; that the balance of hardship did not tip decidedly in plaintiff's favor; and that there was insufficient showing of probable eventual success on the merits of any of his four causes of action. Flood v. Kuhn, 309 F. Supp. 793 (S.D.N.Y. 1970).

 On March 24, 1970 we granted plaintiff's application for an early trial. On April 23, 1970 we deferred action, pursuant to Rule 12(d), F.R. Civ. P., on defendants' motions to dismiss the first four causes of action, but granted summary judgment dismissing the unrelated fifth cause of action above-mentioned against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. Flood v. Kuhn, 312 F. Supp. 404 (S.D.N.Y. 1970).

 The remaining four causes of action contesting the legality of baseball's reserve system were tried to this Court from May 19 to June 10, 1970. The trial record consists of some 2000 pages of transcript and 56 exhibits. At the close of trial we reserved decision and fixed July 13, 1970 as the date for all post-trial memoranda.

 We resolved to allow great liberality in the making of the total trial record to the end that each theory or contention advanced by the litigants would be amply covered and dealt with when all the proof was in.

 Baseball and the Reserve System

 Baseball is our national pastime and has been so for well over a century. Most of our interest in the sport as fans and spectators centers around professional or organized baseball. Organized baseball consists of the twenty-four major league teams which comprise the American and National Leagues and the various tiers of minor leagues which serve principally as training grounds for aspiring players. Tr. 645-46. *fn3" There exist no competitive professional teams in North America outside this structure. Id. All are governed by either the Major League Rules or the corresponding Professional Baseball Rules (applicable to the minor leagues) and are subject to the broad powers of the Commissioner of Baseball. Tr. 647-52; Major League Agreement, Articles I, IV, VII, IX.

 At the center of this single, unified but stratified organization of baseball leagues is the reserve system, the essence of which has been in force for nearly one hundred years, almost the entire history of organized professional baseball. All teams in organized baseball agree to be bound by and enforce its strictures. It is perhaps the cornerstone of the present structure in that it insures team continuity and control of a supply of ballplayers. It is the heart of plaintiff's complaint.

 From the standpoint of the professional baseball player, its effect is to deny him throughout his career freedom to choose his employer. Since 1965 each new player seeking to enter baseball has been exposed to a draft by the major and minor league clubs. See Major League Rule 4. If selected by a club in this semi-annual draft, he may bargain only with that club; should he wish not to play for that club he must wait until the next draft is held. Id.

 Regardless of whether his entry into organized baseball is through the player draft or as a free agent, he must sign a Uniform Player's Contract, the only form of contract permitted between player and club, which empowers the signing club unilaterally to renew his contract continuously from year to year should he and the club fail to come to terms on a new agreement. *fn4" Once signed he is thereafter forbidden to negotiate toward prospective baseball employment with any club other than the one to whom he is under contract. *fn5" Thus, the club has a right to his services for as long as it wishes to renew his contract, subject only to his right to retire from baseball. The total number of ballplayers so controlled is limited by the provision that no major league club may have over forty active players under contract and on its reserve list. *fn6"

 If it chooses, a club may assign a player's contract to another club without consulting the player or obtaining his consent. *fn7" Should his contract be assigned his new club becomes heir to all of the above-mentioned rights and obligations vis-a-vis the player. *fn8" If a player refuses to sign his contract and play, as Flood has, he is placed on a Restricted List whereby the club last holding his contract, in this case Philadelphia, *fn9" retains the exclusive right to negotiate with the player. *fn10" Only if released does a player become a free agent; he cannot achieve such status by his own choosing. *fn11"

 Plaintiff's witnesses in the main concede that some form of reserve on players is a necessary element of the organization of baseball as a league sport, but contend that the present all-embracing system is needlessly restrictive and offer various alternatives which in their view might loosen the bonds without sacrifice to the game. *fn12" Plaintiff points to the present experience of other professional sports such as football, basketball and hockey, each of which survives relatively comfortably with a reserve system or organizational structure whose elements to a varying extent offer more freedom of choice and flexibility to its players. Tr. 448-590 (see especially: football, Tr. 463, 466-67, 480, 490; basketball, Tr. 520-23; hockey, Tr. 552-53, 559-60, 569, 572, 577, 582-84, 587); Plaintiff's Exhibits 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 in evidence.

 The defendant clubs and Commissioner of Baseball, on the other hand, contend that the restrictions of the present system are reasonable and necessary to preserve the integrity of the game, maintain balanced competition and fan interest, and encourage continued investment in player development; that none of the alternatives suggested by plaintiff would be workable and still satisfy all three of these criteria; and that, upon comparison, baseball with its player safeguards *fn13" is hardly more restrictive in its reserve system than are the other professional sports. See Tr. 652-913, 932-1121, 1232-1545. Defendants point to the instability in the early history of baseball and before institution of the reserve system as evidence of the danger to be anticipated from any modification of its substance. See Plaintiff's Exhibit 15-A in evidence (the Celler Report entitled "Organized Baseball," Subcommittee on the Study of Monopoly Power of the Committee of the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, 82nd Cong., 2d Sess. (1952)).

 The Reserve System -- a Necessity?

 Prior to trial we gained the impression that there was a view, held by many, that baseball's reserve system had occasioned rampant abuse and that it should be abolished. We were struck by the fact, however, that the testimony at trial failed to support that criticism; we find no general or widespread disregard of the extremely important position the player occupies. Cf. note 16, infra.

 Clearly the preponderance of credible proof does not favor elimination of the reserve clause. With the sole exception of plaintiff himself, *fn14" it shows that even plaintiff's witnesses do not contend that it is wholly undesirable; in fact they regard substantial portions meritorious. It lends support to our view, expressed at another point in this opinion, that arbitration or negotiation would extract such troublesome fault as may exist in the present system and, preserving its necessary features, fashion the reserve clause so as to satisfy all parties.

 Thus, former baseball star Jack (Jackie) Robinson responded to questioning in this regard as follows:

 
" Q. Do I understand, however you interpret the expression 'reserve clause' or 'reserve system,' that your testimony is that you favor modifications of that system? Is that right?
 
A. Robinson That is correct, I do.
 
Q. You don't favor destruction of the system, do you?
 
A. No, Sir." Tr. 217. See Tr. 218-19. See also Tr. 198, 216.

 Witness Henry (Hank) Greenberg, also a former star player, was of the opinion:

 
"I think the players themselves, having functioned under the reserve system all these years, recognize the fact that the club has some equity in the players' ...

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