THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
There will be a few new plaques hanging in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York as of this weekend but the baseball equivalent of the Smithsonian really is not a complete museum. Unlike the basketball shrine in Springfield, Massachusetts (which included Larry Fleischer who was the first Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association as a builder) and the hockey Valhalla in Toronto, Ontario (a museum which inducted Alan Eagleson who founded the National Hockey League Players Association until he was booted for illegal activities), the Cooperstown museum has no room for perceived enemies of baseball like Marvin Miller, the founder of the Major League Baseball Players Association or Curt Flood who challenged baseball's reserve clause. Miller and Flood were major contributors to the game but perhaps they did it in a negative way. Cooperstown does honor two-bit baseball scribes for their contributions for providing baseball propaganda and inducts them into a special wing very year.
Miller just missed being elected into the Cooperstown shrine this year. Apparently there are still resentments from certain segments of baseball that linger. Flood has never been considered a serious candidate for an inclusion as a player.
Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were voted into the Hall of Fame by baseball's ultimate sycophants--the Baseball Writers of America- last winter. Pat Gillick, a former General Manager whose stops included a stint with the Philadelphia Phillies was voted in by the veteran's committee. This year's winner of the writer's award goes to Bill Conlin who worked in Philadelphia. Roland Hemond got the Buck O'Neill lifetime achievement award and one time Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins announcer Dave Van Horne gets the announcers award.
Flood challenged the reserve clause which used to literally bind players in perpetuity to a club until the player was deemed by a general manager to be unnecessary.
"Evan, I am so pleased you said that,' was Curt Flood's response to a question back in the early 1990s when asked about the baseball fan's joy of the winter meetings--which is a meat market for baseball teams who trade human beings for others in the hopes that the teams will improve and yet forget that they trade a human being.” You know you kind of have that feeling many many times that at this huge conference table, these wonderful men sit in front of all these contracts and like cards they deal them out, you know.
"You want a shortstop, you want a shortstop, here's a shortstop and unfortunately every time you move a piece of paper and I want you to think about it now. Every time you move one piece of paper from this seat in front of someone else, Mrs. Flood has to find a new school, a new apartment, a new set of friends. Mrs. Flood has to find a new neighborhood. Enormous things happen when you move one player from one town to another when you trade or sell him.
"Sometimes the owners lose sight of that."
Curt Flood was a really good baseball player who began his career in 1956 with the Cincinnati Redlegs (the franchise owners for some reason lengthened the name from the Reds to Redlegs in the 1950s partially in response to America's "anti-Red", anti-communist mood with the Reds name removed from the logo. The name Reds would return in the 1960s). He played some games with Cincinnati and was traded during the December 1957 winter meetings to St. Louis.
Flood spent 12 years in St. Louis and was dealt on October 7, 1969 to Philadelphia along with Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Horner for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. It was on October 7, 1969 that life would not only change for Flood and the other players involved in the deal but the baseball industry as a whole.
Flood refused to report to Philadelphia for a variety of reasons.
"I think it was a decision that came over many, many years of subtle abuses that people under contract have to live with," he explained. "It seems that when a handful of men own the industry, advantages are taking of the employees that under no other circumstances would you sit still for. That was true in baseball before we had the chance to really seriously negotiate the rest of our lives and I guess over the years and over a period of time where I saw men being traded while they drove to the ballpark and they heard on the radio that they no longer worked for the team that they were going to get ready to go suit up for, they were traded in between doubleheaders, they were traded or sold for one reason or another, after enduring that with a lot of my friends, I'd often wonder what the heck would happen if it even happened to me.
"And in 1969 that happened and after great successes in St. Louis, one of the, I can't call them underling, but it certainly wasn't Mr. (Gussie) Busch, the owner, called me on the phone one morning and said hi Curt, you know you have been traded. You know, that was probably the most important conversation in my lifetime and sure as check, the next day, a messenger delivered an envelope with an index sized card in it and it said 'Dear" and someone types your name in, you have been and there are five possibilities. You might not know that. You could have been sold, traded, optioned or whatever, outright, right and traded was checked.
"In the 13 years in St. Louis, I don't know. I think on top of all of the other situations that I saw happen over my career span that had to be the last kick in the pants that baseball wanted to give me."
Flood was a very good player and had won seven Gold Gloves as the best centerfielder in the National League between 1963 and 1969. He hit .300 or better six times and set defensive records for a centerfielder. He was part of two St. Louis Cardinals World Series championships and was co-captain of the team. But his relationship with Busch and the Cardinals had fallen apart by 1969. One reason? He asked for $100,000 which in those days was given to just a few players like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Flood’s one time Cardinals teammate Stan Musial.