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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Another snub looms for pioneer
Chances are, some of his old friends will let Curt Flood down today. Just as they've done in the past. And just as a previous generation of baseball writers did before them.
By JOHN ROMANO
Published February 27, 2007
Curt Flood, a star St. Louis Cardinals center, challenged baseball's reserve system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
TAMPA - Chances are, some of his old friends will let Curt Flood down today. Just as they've done in the past. And just as a previous generation of baseball writers did before them.
The Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame will announce the results of its latest ballot today, and Flood is not expected to fare well.
I will not insist that an omission is an injustice, although I believe it is. I will not even suggest it is a gross oversight, even if it seems an obvious charge.
All I know for certain is one more failure to honor this man would somehow demean an institution and the game it represents.
And so Flood, who passed away 10 years ago last month at 59, appears destined to continue an inescapable drift from our memories. Already, his skills as a player are mostly forgotten, and his contributions as a pioneer are sinfully unappreciated.
Ask players in the Devil Rays clubhouse about Curt Flood, and you will be treated largely to wrinkled brows and blank stares. Few remember the name, and fewer still recognize his place in history.
But, understand, the players are not to blame. The fault rests with baseball's hierarchy. With the players' association. And, yes, with Hall of Fame voters.
A man Time magazine called one of the 10 Most Influential Athletes of the Century was never able to find work in Major League Baseball after his playing days had ended. A player who was once on the front pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times and countless other newspapers does not have his uniform number retired, or his likeness preserved in museums.
All that remains of Flood's crusade is the impact.
Free agency. Arbitration. No-trade clauses. And, ultimately, the tens of millions of dollars being earned by ballplayers everywhere today.
Flood's challenge of baseball's reserve clause in 1970 did not overturn any of the game's bylaws, but it began a process that eventually freed players from the one-sided contracts and perpetual servitude that had existed for decades.
And all it cost him was his career.
"He was a sacrificial lamb, and he knew it. I know Marvin Miller certainly warned him it was a thankless thing he was doing," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, a teammate of Flood's in St. Louis and a former player rep. "But he was a very high principled individual. He felt very strongly about what he was doing and, in spite of the warnings that he may end his baseball career, he felt it was that important.
"And it's very important for the players today to be aware of that. They haven't always had this golden goose here."
Flood's career and case are expertly recounted in a riveting new book A Well-Paid Slave, by Washington, D.C. attorney Brad Snyder.
It details the racism Flood endured as a young man during spring training in the early 1960s when black players were not allowed to stay with the rest of the team in the Cardinals hotel in St. Petersburg. It follows his career as he won seven Gold Gloves, was named to three All-Star teams and received votes for the National League MVP award in six consecutive seasons.
And, in exquisite detail, it explains the importance of Flood's decision to fight a trade to Philadelphia following the 1969 season.
At a time when players had no recourse other than to retire, Flood challenged baseball's right to force a player to work for whatever team owned his rights.
The so-called reserve clause had been in effect since the 19th century and had already survived two Supreme Court decisions, yet Flood insisted on fighting it once more. It meant forsaking a $90,000 salary and, at age 32, could possibly hasten the end of his career. Flood understood all of this and still rejected repeated overtures from baseball to settle the case and play for another team.
"My opinion is Jackie Robinson started a racial revolution by putting on his baseball uniform, and Curt Flood started an economic revolution by taking his uniform off," Snyder said. "He was told it was likely he would not benefit from this in any way, and Curt still did it anyway."
Flood tried a return to baseball after a year's absence, but alcoholism had taken a heavy toll on him. He lasted only a few weeks with the Washington Senators in 1970 before fleeing to Europe to escape the stress.
There are some who suggest Flood does not deserve enshrinement because the Supreme Court ultimately reaffirmed earlier rulings, meaning he did not overturn the reserve clause on his own.
Such an argument, however, loses sight of the ripples created by Flood's leap into legal waters. Unwilling to negotiate terms of the reserve clause while Flood's case was going on, MLB instead agreed to set up grievance arbitration hearings. It was that process that eventually led to the Catfish Hunter and Messersmith/McNally rulings that opened the door to free agency.
Baseball lawyers were also forced to argue before the Supreme Court that the reserve clause was not a legal issue but a labor issue that should be negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement. That led to the modifications of the reserve clause a few years later that are still being enjoyed by players today.
Which brings us back to the Hall of Fame announcement.
That Flood went 15 years on the writers' ballots in the 1970s and '80s without generating much support is curious.
That he continues to be left off ballots by the Veterans Committee - which is made up principally of the Hall's living members - is astonishing.
Henry Aaron. Ernie Banks. Johnny Bench. George Brett. Lou Brock. Jim Bunning. Rod Carew. Steve Carlton. Orlando Cepeda. Carlton Fisk. Whitey Ford. Bob Gibson. Reggie Jackson. Al Kaline. Harmon Killebrew. Sandy Koufax. Juan Marichal. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Joe Morgan. Phil Niekro. Jim Palmer. Brooks Robinson. Frank Robinson. Mike Schmidt. Tom Seaver.
Some were Flood's teammates. Some were his rivals. Many were later made millionaires, in part, by his sacrifice.
Yet of all those names, and dozens others, only 10 voted for him the last time he was eligible for induction in 2005.
All these years later, Curt Flood deserves better.