Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Curt Flood's Birthday.

I confess to being a baseball romantic.  Yes, I love my Mariners and follow them intently (and intensely) but honestly I have a hard time staying on top of what everybody else is doing.  Maybe enough to stay on top of the standings but that's about it.

But what I really love about baseball are those things that Roger Angell says in the post below.  I love the stories.  Baseball is replete with history, statistics, stories, and a fair amount of drama. Baseball has stories of great player that do awful things, like Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson.  It also has stories of great players whose careers are cut short due to tragedy like Addy Joss, Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig or Thurman Munson.

Others, like Curt Flood, were baseball's martyrs.  Let's get this straight from the beginning, Flood was not a perfect man.  Few baseball players are.  A life of travel, exhaustion, injury, and adulation does not make for a lot of well-grounded family men.  Curt Flood was an alcoholic and a poor father.  This isn't about that.

What Curt Flood did do was walk away from a career he loved and that paid him a great deal of money for a greater principle and more.  First, Flood helped desegregate the Cardinals' spring training site in Florida.  He brought the fact that all the Cardinals could not stay together in their hotel to the attention of owner Augie Busch.  Black players were required to stay in another section of town five miles away.  They couldn't eat with everyone else.  Life was much more difficult in 1959.  Busch, blissfully ignorant of the situation,  eventually purchased the hotel, effectively integrating their spring training experience. 

Flood's refusal to report to Philadelphia after his trade in 1969 meant he was walking away from $100,000.  He refused to report because the Phillies were a lousy team, in a crummy ballpark, that played in front of fans widely perceived as racist.  What's more he was coming from one of the best organizations in baseball.  In a day before free agency, with the Reserve Clause in effect, movement of players was possible only at the behest of the owners.  Players were merely pieces.  According to Flood, players were merely "well paid slaves." 

Everybody knows the reserve clause was broken by the Messersmith and McNally cases in 1975.  Though Flood lost Flood vs. Kuhn, it doesn't make his effort any less admirable, his willingness to put his career on the line any less heroic.  Though he died in 1997 of throat cancer, I remember him here today. 

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