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C. Flood denied rightful place in baseball HOF

c.flood
Bluesy Daye
/
flickr.com
Curt Flood

Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game of numbers and there are certain numbers that make players more special than others. Curt Flood amassed 1,861 hits and had just 85 home runs for his career. His lifetime batting average was .293, which, while exceptional, is not superlative.

Flood played for 15 seasons, more than twice the length of an average career. And in those seasons, Flood played a marvelous center field, earning a Gold Glove, presented for defensive excellence, seven straight times.

But numbers alone don’t tell the complete story. In Flood’s case, hits, runs and average don’t even begin to measure heart and courage, commodities that don’t show up in box scores.

And because those intangibles don’t fit on a trading card, Curt Flood was passed over last week for entrance in the Baseball Hall of Fame by a committee of Hall of Famers, executives and media members.

Flood’s career began in Cincinnati, but he was dealt to St. Louis in his third season. It was there where his career took off. He became an essential part of Cardinal teams that won three National League pennants and two World Series.

Following the 1969 season, where he hit .285 and collected that seventh Gold Glove, Flood was traded from St. Louis, a team that had won 87 games to Philadelphia, who lost 99.

Under what was called the reserve clause, baseball owners essentially had the power to control the movement of players in perpetuity. Free agency was, for all intents and purposes, a myth, and players largely went along with the mythology.

That is except for Flood, who, at 31, and nearing the back nine of his career, had had enough. He refused the trade and sued Major League Baseball for the right of free movement.

In a letter to then baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood wrote quote After 12 years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes unquote.

In today’s sporting environment where contract holdouts are commonplace and players routinely take control of their situation, Flood would be seen as merely doing business.

However, in the sports world of 1970, Curt Flood became a pariah. Marvin Miller, the head of the fledgling baseball players union, told Flood he would fail.

But Flood told Miller that he was fighting for other players and their futures and was content with whatever outcome occurred.

The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in baseball’s favor, as Miller predicted.

Flood, by then 33, and with a year out of the game, was traded to the hapless Washington Senators for the 1971 season. He played in just 13 games, batting .200. He was out of baseball after that and died 14 years ago at the age of 59.

Ironically, Marvin Miller, who beat baseball continually as union chief, was eventually enshrined in Cooperstown, while Curt Flood, who made Miller’s success possible, was not.

Every American professional athlete owes Curt Flood a debt of gratitude. Baseball owes Curt Flood a place in its Hall of Fame.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Email: sportsatlarge@gmail.com

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.