It all might have quietly ended there as a lark or a game of tag between two premier pitchers (Koufax and Drysdale) and a recalcitrant owner who was simply playing by the rules of his time – but it didn’t. Oh yes, they had their fun and in the end doubled their previous year salary to six figures each (the equivalent of $923,000 in today’s money) – but in fact, this episode would play out as the trigger that would spark revolutionary changes in revolutionary times – and baseball would become sucked into a whirlwind of change that would forever alter the landscape of the game. As a student (and teacher) of history, discussion about significant events or impact individuals always raises the question – Do the times make the man – OR does the man make the times?
As an example, we can ponder the question (apropos for this weekend) as to whether or not Martin Luther King would have been successful in his efforts in the 1950’s as opposed to the 1960’s? In other words, was he right man in the right place at the right time……….or would he have been successful in his journey for equality in any era of history? Invariably, the answer is usually a wash but the tendency leans towards the likelihood that the man is a product of the times he lives in……..as we’ll see this question plays smack into the middle of what would enfold in baseball…..
We’re getting there but a bit more history is still necessary…….up until this time all players were bound by what was known as the “Reserve Clause” that was included in every players contract. Essentially (as practiced) it meant that players were “owned” by the team they played for. They could be released, traded, and sent to the Minors at the will of ownership. In raw terms, they could better be classified as “indentured servants”.
Curt Flood was not Ted Williams or Babe Ruth. Like Williams and Ruth however, he was a indentured servant of the team he played for. He was also known to be reflective and intelligent. He was also black (or Afro-American in the vernacular of his day). In 1969, he put together a good year and one he felt he should be compensated for. Without an agent, he asked for a $30,000 raise (the equivalent of about $220,000 today). Cardinals ownership said (basically) are you kidding me and subsequently traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. In a different time or era this could very well have been the end of the story. Like a Pee Wee Reese or Phil Rizzuto before him, he could have fallen in line, finished out his waning career, retired and vanished off the baseball planet…….except that he didn’t…….
These were different times and they called for different measures. These were times when Black Americans had the attention of the (by and large) American people. By now, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy had all been murdered. The streets of Detroit and Los Angeles were rife with violence in the streets. The Vietnam War was still raging to the outrage of many. In short, these were times when you broke out of a cocoon you were living to fight for your cause – no matter what side of the political spectrum you were aligned with………
As a result, that’s exactly what Curt Flood did. With the assistance of Marvin Miller (New York Times obituary here), along with the less than virile Players Association, Curt Flood would proceed to embark on a journey that would take him all the way to the U.S Supreme Court and beyond………setting the stage for sweeping changes and specifically the introduction of the player agent to Major League Baseball……….
Continued In Part Three……But in the meantime let Curt Flood tell you his story himself in this gripping and revealing video.