2007 marks 10 years since the passing of baseball legend Curt Flood. Many of today’s sports enthusiasts, including those who follow baseball, have little sense of the man and his contributions to the sport of baseball.
There were two Curt Floods. There was Curt Flood the baseball player who had a 162 game average of .293 and a career high of .335. There was the Curt Flood who received seven consecutive Gold Gloves. There was Curt Flood the All-Star player.
Then there was the other Curt Flood. There was the Curt Flood who challenged the notorious “reserve clause” which bound players to the clubs that owned their contracts. In 1969 when the St. Louis Cardinals attempted to trade Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, he refused to move. Taking this to court, he proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that came to be known as Flood v Kuhn. Flood, with the backing of the Major League Baseball Players Association (the union of the players) attempted to break a system that was the equivalent of a 20th-century indentured servitude. Though the Supreme Court ruled against Flood, Flood’s actions set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to the elimination of the reserve clause and the emergence of the system of “free agency,” which most Major League baseball players take for granted.
In taking these actions, Flood’s career was effectively ruined and the owners, who resented his actions, went on to ensure that Flood would not be considered for the Hall of Fame. Though many people over the years have raised the call to right this great wrong, it has fallen on deaf ears. With 2007 upon us, perhaps the time has come for more voices to be heard.
Flood’s actions took place in the context of the great battle to expand democracy that was represented by the social movements of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Flood became a champion for the goals of those movements on the field of baseball. While Jackie Robinson, by his presence, broke the color line in baseball, Flood, by his actions, challenged the feudal-like system that restricted the ability of players to get out from under the thumb of the team owners. In that sense, Flood was more than a symbol, but was as much an agent of change.
In 1997 Curt Flood died from cancer. In the subsequent years, those who have raised his name to be advanced into the Baseball Hall of Fame have been dismissed. While there are many people who believe that Flood’s record, plus his sacrifice, deserve his being placed in the Hall of Fame, there is no organized constituency that has been willing to push the envelope.
The time has come for this to change.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, for instance, which stood with Flood in his legal challenge, does not normally take a position on who goes to the Hall of Fame. Given that they are a union of players, this makes sense under normal circumstances. Yet the Curt Flood case is not normal, and that is precisely why the Players Association should be at the forefront of demanding that Flood be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Flood took a stand on behalf of all baseball players. He is not simply an icon of a constituency of fans, such as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson from the Chicago White Sox of the early 20th century (denied entry into the Hall of Fame due to his being accused, though never convicted or proven, of being connected to the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal). Flood was the person who threw himself on the barbed wire that encircled the baseball players, making it possible for others to jump over not only the restrictions imposed by the reserve clause, but to jump over him as well.
Flood’s actions are those that organizations from within the Black Freedom Movement, whether the NAACP, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists or the Black Radical Congress, should embrace and extol. Yet even within our own movement, there has been silence, a silence that seems to have represented some combination of having taken for granted the courage and vision of this great man, along with simply forgetting him altogether. The fact that upon his death so few great baseball players, of whatever race or ethnic group, showed up to pay respect was an insult to Flood’s commitment. That black players did not show in mass is nothing short of humiliating.
We need symbols of courage to inspire us forward, but also to remind us that the job of overcoming injustice has not yet been accomplished. 2007 needs to be the year where we take one small step in redressing a wrong: Curt Flood needs to be in the Hall of Fame!
Black Commentator Editorial Board Member Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor and international activist who currently serves as a visiting professor at Brooklyn College-CUNY. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.