Before I start this rant (and it’s gonna be a rant), I want to say one thing–Curt Flood deserves to be in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. If you come away with nothing else in this commentary, I want you to come away with the man who challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause made the biggest contribution to the game of baseball in the 20th century since the addition of lights (night games). It is unconscionable that Flood, who died in 1997, is not in the hall of fame, and it begs us to ask why?
We thought a new HBO documentary, “The Curious Case of Curt Flood” would at least, partially answer that question. We certainly knew the documentary would examine the case of Kuhn vs. Flood, the lawsuit filed in 1970 that challenged the St. Louis Cardinals’ right to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies without his consent and against his will, an act considered blasphemy at the time but one that would ultimately establish the case law for what would be become free agency.
We had hoped the documentary would also examine the case, and even help make the case for Flood’s election to the hall of fame. Curiously enough, it did not mention the hall of fame in relation to Curt one time. I don’t think it mentioned the hall of fame, at all. Very disappointing.
It did bring forth critical discoveries around why Flood lost his case. The case wasn’t lost because it was not without merit. It was lost because Flood’s attorney, former Supreme Court Justice, Arthur Goldberg, was unprepared and miss-argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972.
The Messersmith-McNally lawsuit two years later won, largely based on the Flood case law. By the time the latter case came up, the Flood case was fresh in the court’s mind and the merits stood, when argued properly. The documentary did cover that sufficiently. However, the rest of the film sought to overstate and over examine his off-the-field life, paid little attention to his baseball career statistics and left you praising the “courage” and “sacrifices” of a very troubled man, but little else. I left the Los Angeles premier steaming mad that this injustice had been done.
Curt Flood was a great ballplayer. He was among the “elite” players in the game’s compensation structure (top five percent); the Cardinals didn’t pay him $90,000 just because they liked him. He would be considered “a franchise player” today. He was the best “everyday” player (hall of fame pitcher Bob Gibson was the best player) on the best team in baseball.
The Cardinals went the World Series three times in five years and won two championships. That’s why the game, the fans and the media ridiculed him so. Why would a man making a $100,000 in 1970 (which is what the Phillies offered him to show up after the trade) “complain” about his job shipping him to another market when the average household was only making $18,000? It seemed insane to the casual observer, but they missed the point. Flood’s classic comment to Howard Cosell’s sarcastic inquiry as to why rock the boat was that “a well-paid slave is nevertheless still a slave.” It was then people got it.
If you quit your job today, your previous employer cannot tell you that you can’t get work elsewhere . . . except in Major League Baseball.
Free agency, or an athlete’s ability to sell their services to the highest bidder, now dictates; it is now the practice, not just in baseball but in all professional sports. The game of baseball has been made better for it. Yet the hall of fame has ignored Flood’s contributions to the game on and off the field. “The Curious Case of Curt Flood” was supposed to bring to light the blackballing that is taking place in the case of Flood’s hall of fame induction.
If Abraham Lincoln is considered, by many accounts, America’s greatest president for his deconstruction of slavery to save the union (for the record; Lincoln never freed the slaves), why would Flood not be among the game’s greatest players for deconstructing baseball’s slave system? It’s a curious case indeed for a man who continues to be slighted for doing what was right.
So, the curiosity continues … but one day somebody’s going ask the right question.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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