And Curt Flood, Too

Great column by Bill Rhoden of The New York Times on what could be perceived as the interlocking Hall of Fame candidacies of George Steinbrenner and Curt Flood.

One pioneered Free Agency, the other turned it into the upwards spiral that created the sport we know today. Bill suggests that folks like me should press for Flood’s election, or special election if need be, and he’s perfectly correct. As I noted to him, I’ve been pushing for Curt since about 1990. If I may quote myself from Pocket Books’ The Big Show which I co-authored with Dan Patrick in 1997:
A few months before his thirty-second birthday, with twelve wonderful seasons behind him as the brilliant center fielder of the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood was traded to the doormats of the National League, the Phillies. And he said no. He said you don’t have the right to ship my butt anywhere you please – not after I’ve given you a dozen years of my life. And he stood up against the establishment – and whatever you think the players have done to the game in the last twenty-five years, what the owners had done to the players for the 100 years previous was a million times worse. And Curt Flood refused to go, and he sued, and it cost him his career. This wasn’t some fringe guy; through 1969 he had 1,854 hits — all he needed was seven more average seasons to get to 3,000 — he’d batted .293 (only six guys outdid him and five of them are in the Hall), he’d slugged .390 (that was ninth best in the era), he’d had six .300 seasons, two seasons with 200 or more hits, he’d won seven straight Gold Gloves, and he’d been on three pennant winners and two World Champs. And he gave it all up. The man got exactly thirty-five more at-bats in his life. No million-dollar contract, no free agency, not even a job as a first base coach somewhere. He even lost the lawsuit – but he paved the way for the freedoms and salaries and rewards that those who followed enjoy to this day. He was thirty-two – and he gave it all up for a principle. The least he deserves in a plaque in Cooperstown.

In point of fact, as I once suggested on ESPN while Curt Flood was still alive, every player should have given him 1% of their salary.

4 Comments

Keith, I don’t know if you have ever seen this video I’m going to link. It’s an amazing interview of Bob Feller from 1957 done by Mike Wallace. Feller had retired and was an advocate for an end to the lifetime reserve clause in baseball. Amazing stuff and a dozen years before C Flood. The video is archived on a University of Texas website.

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/video/2008/wallace/feller_bob_t.html

Enjoy the video and I love your show. Great Special comment last night.

http://wrigleyregular.mlblogs.com/

Thanks russelw for the link to a fascinating video document. I now see Feller in an altogether different light after viewing this interview. He was absolutely years ahead of his time. No doubt the lack of public support among major leaguers of the time had, perhaps, a little something to do with the very reserve clause against which he was campaigning. Mike Wallace was a shameless shill for Philip Morris in his commercials, no doubt controlled by this sponsor the same way major league broadcasters were tightly controlled by their sponsors, a topic briefly explored by Wallace and Feller in the interview. Of course, this video makes a powerful argument for Curt Flood’s presence in the Hall of Fame, considering that he risked and lost his career, unlike Feller who had recently retired.

Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, the baseball gods of my childhood. My father took me to my first baseball game at Busch Stadium in 1965 to see Bob Gibson pitch. The game has certainly changed a lot, both for the better and for the worse. The 1960s were the golden age of baseball for me.

It took a lot of guts for Curt Flood to do what he did. He forever changed baseball. For that alone he should be in the Hall of Fame. Statistics be damned.

I met Mr. Flood in August of 1988, on a hot summer day in a crowded mall in St. Louis. I was with my family, my step father being newly retired from the SLPD. We were in the food court trying to save a small table of two for a family of seven while each tried to decide where to each and in what shifts.
My step father, spying each venue, tapped my shoulder, leaned forward and pointed towards an average looking man in a line of people waiting to be served.
“Do you know who that is?”
“No. Who?”
“It’s Curt Flood.”
“Who’s that?”
In a few sentences he explained the impact this man had on baseball.
Seeing no vacant tables, I asked, “Do you think he’d like to sit with us?”
“Why don’t you ask?”
My brother and step brother made their way through the crowd. Mr. Flood had been served and looking for a table for a minute or two.
“Mr. Flood, would you like to sit with us?”
Rather surprised by the question, he agreed. We showed him to our table and a seat. Unrecognized in this crowded mall by anyone but the seven of us, he seemed happy to have a seat and talk about baseball with Cardinal fans (which he was happier to have remains a mystery). He told us of baseball in his day, the differences between the eras, and some of the famous players he played with.
Feeling we were close to encroaching upon his personal space and noting that he was nearing the end of his snack, we asked if he would mind an autograph and a photo. He signed and dated the handout from the mall and put his arms around us for a few pictures. We thanked him for his time and he thanked us for being Cardinal fans and he headed for the trash with his tray.
When I heard he had passed in 1997, I felt that baseball had lost a legend, and the world had lost a gentleman.

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