Spiros's Reviews > A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports

A Well-Paid Slave by Brad   Snyder
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Nov 25, 09

bookshelves: beisbol, strand, vacationreads, i-fought-the-law
Recommended for: anyone who needs to be reminded that one person can make a difference
Read in November, 2009

Following the 1969 season, Cardinals' GM Bing Devine packaged aging centerfielder Curt Flood with several other spare parts in a trade to acquire the prodigiously talented, and chronically troubled, Dick Allen from the Philadelphia Phillies; despite Flood's great popularity with Cards' fans, despite his lifetime .300 bating average and seven Gold Gloves, despite having been an integral part of three pennant winning teams, Devine divined a waning in Flood's skills, and was willing to gamble that Allen, freed from the racist pressure cooker that was Phillie baseball at the end of the '60's, would shed some of his baggage and become the superstar that he was projected to be. Although Flood had been with the Cardinals for twelve seasons, he would have no say on this transaction; Major League teams, through the Reserve Clause written into all player contracts, controlled the destinies of all the players on their 40 man rosters, in perpetuity.
Instead of accepting a trade to Philadelphia, Curt Flood threatened to retire, effectively ending his servitude. Spurred by his involvement in in the Civil Rights struggle, and inspired by his childhood hero, Jackie Robinson, Flood decided to challenge the Reserve Clause in the Courts; with the approval and financial support of the nascent Baseball Players' Union, he carried his fight to the United States Supreme Court.
Snyder does a great job describing the series of legal battles, and the horrific toll they took on Curt Flood, who fought alone, since no active players, and pitifully few retired players, would dare to actively support him, lest they risk banishment from the Game.
A book I recently read characterized Commissioner Bowie Kuhn as "one of the most effective and evenhanded stewards baseball has ever known". He is herein revealed as a fawning stooge of the ownership of baseball, which is much more the way I remembered him at the time; to be blunt, he was a cocksucker.
As is fitting, the best tribute to Flood was paid by Bill "Spaceman" Lee, a man who was (and remains) a fierce competitor on the field. In an old-timers game at Fenway, 'Lee showed his appreciation by serving up a fat pitch. "I thought, 'Here was the one guy who did as much for baseball as anyone else', so I just said, 'Here, hit it'" Lee said. Flood hit a home run.'
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