For Christmas, my daughter gave me the book "A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports" by Brad Snyder. I recently completed the book and I really want to encourage you to read it.
Regular readers of this column know that I am a renewed baseball fan and that Curt Flood was and remains a hero for me. Snyder's well-documented, bluntly honest work explains not only why Flood should be your hero, but also the risks and sacrifices that anyone faces when they take a courageous stand.
As you may know, Curt Flood was to be traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969. Under what was called the "reserve clause," Flood, like most players, was an indentured servant to the major league baseball owners. He could not, for instance, seek the best offer from competing teams. Thus, a player could be trapped in a team and, be underutilized, letting his talent go to waste. Or, as in the case of Curt Flood, the team owner could decide to trade someone away, no matter how long they had been with the team.
Flood decided to take a stand against the "reserve clause," and with the support of the Major League Baseball Players Association, launched a major lawsuit that ultimately reached the Supreme Court. Though the case was lost, the publicity around the case helped to change the climate in the country such that increasing holes were created in the reserve clauses, resulting in the system of "free agency," with which we are familiar today.
Those are the outlines of the story, but the book is about much more than various court battles. It is about a man who knew that he would not personally benefit even if he won. In an important moment when he is discussing the case with Players Association Director Marvin Miller and is told that he will not benefit from the case, Flood asks: "But it would benefit all of the other players and all the players to come, wouldn't it?" When he was told 'yes,' he responded that this was good enough for him.
The story does not end there, either. Flood struggled with alcoholism. Flood entered into both a personal and geographic exile. In the United States, many players were not prepared to support him for fear of retaliation. This left Flood very much alone. He ultimately left the country for an extended period.
Yet, Flood persevered. Even in defeat he was able, in part through the help of family, friends and his eventual wife Judy Pace-Flood, to regain his dignity as a player who had taken a stand.
Curt Flood, who died 10 years ago this past January, was one such fallible hero. He set the stage for a new generation of players to succeed and thrive, but despite his heroic and historic act, he is not recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame. To add to this, many of today's players know next to nothing about Curt Flood and his sacrifices in the name of justice.
We can never rely on those in power to remind us of our heroes or to accurately tell their story. That is what makes "A Well-Paid Slave" so powerful. It is told from the standpoint of those who stand for justice.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor and international writer and activist.