(NNPA)—With the beginning of the baseball season I am always drawn back to the memory of African-American St. Louis Cardinals player Curt Flood. Flood defied the baseball ruling establishment and led a court challenge to the “reserve clause,” a mechanism that held most players in perpetual bondage to their teams. Though Flood lost the lawsuit at the Supreme Court, with the support of the Major League Baseball Players Association he set in motion the steps that would eventually result in the end of the reserve clause and the creation, of “free agency.”
Having led such an important attack on an unjust system, what remains amazing is that he has been all but forgotten by most contemporary sports enthusiasts and even athletes. At his funeral, in 1997, contemporary players were absent, according to Brad Snyder, author of the must-read A Well-Paid Slave which details Flood’s struggle against the reserve clause and the system. Today’s Major League baseball players seem to have little knowledge of Flood’s contributions, a problem that I would lay at the doorstep of the Player’s Association for not having a new member education program that highlights the significance of this struggle for today’s baseball player.
Yet, it is not just baseball. None of the major sports has given Flood his due and instead players are allowed to think that the fantastic salaries that they are able to earn are the result of their athletic prowess rather than a struggle led by one outstanding centerfielder and a union called the Major League Baseball Players Association (led at the time by Marvin Miller).
Forgetting Flood means forgetting that the owners of Major League baseball were never generous individuals looking out for the well-being of the players. For the most part, they were shrewd and greedy businesspeople who were and are looking for the big dollar. The reserve clause, like any form of indentured servitude, provided the owners with the power to hold onto their best players and eliminate the chance that the player could get a better deal with a separate team. The result? Simply that the owners, for years, kept making more and more and the players were stuck. This changed when Flood and the Player’s Association were both prepared to take an immense risk and challenge the system. Flood’s failure in court ultimately led to his leaving his great love, baseball. Yet only a few years later the Player’s Association was able to utilize the terrible publicity that the owners received in the midst of the Flood court case in order to crack the wall of the reserve clause.
As I have been saying every year around this time, “…so, when will Curt Flood and Marvin Miller go into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their contributions to baseball?”
Unless the fans raise a ruckus, neither of these men nor their union, will ever receive the recognition to which they are entitled.
(Bill Fletcher Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)