September 21, 2020

Curt Flood’s little-known fight against MLB’s indentured servitude policy

Arif Khatib at Curt Flood Field. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

A few people also remember Flood was quite a player. He was an even better defensive center fielder than Willie Mays, winning seven straight National League Gold Glove Awards for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s.

But even fewer still remember the uncomfortable stories of racism Flood endured, which tormented him for much of his life.

It started in 1957 when he was 19 years old, after the Cincinnati Reds signed him following his senior year at Oakland Tech and flew him to Tampa, Fla. for spring training. That’s where Flood got his introduction to the Jim Crow laws of legalized racial segregation.

He took a taxi to the Reds’ lavish hotel, only to be greeted by a hotel employee, who told him it was for Whites only. He led Flood out to a back alley to catch a taxi ride to another hotel where the Black players were staying.

Flood and the other Black players had to dress separately in the locker room, sometimes having to change into their uniforms in a small shack beside the field. After their first practice, Flood mindlessly tossed his uniform on top of a giant pile of others, only to be immediately yelled at by the clubhouse attendant.

The man grabbed a long stick with a nail on the end of it to pick up Flood’s jersey and pants, then dropped them onto a nearby stack with the dirty gear belonging to the other Black players.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo) 

He later told his wife he was so shaken that he sat naked on a chair in the crowded locker room and silently cried.

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“I think it was something that he could never forget,” said Jim “Mudcat” Grant, one of Flood’s ex-teammates,

GAME CHANGERS: This is the second in a series of stories chronicling the Bay Area’s rich history of sports figures fighting for equality. Click here for a look at what Tommie Smith and John Carlos — the enduring emblems of athlete protest — think about today’s movement.

Curt Flood, a complicated man with a convoluted legacy, spent the final years of his life consumed with fear he’d somehow be forgotten.

He wondered if sabotaging his own baseball career to help other players win their freedom — in what he really saw as a civil rights issue — would just be a footnote in sports history.

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It’s been nearly 25 years since Flood, the kid who grew from an Oakland playground legend into a three-time All-Star, two-time world champion and once-in-a-lifetime baseball pioneer, died in a Los Angeles hospital. He was 59 when he passed away on Jan. 20, 1997 due to complications from throat cancer.

Sadly, just as Flood feared, he may be a forgotten man today.

The most tangible evidence of Flood’s impact in his hometown can be found at the corner of School St. and Coolidge Ave., just off I-580, where a modest, rectangular sign tells all they’ve arrived at “Curt Flood Field,” a multi-purpose space used by high school and youth teams.

“But if you go within two blocks of the field named after him, and ask people who Curt Flood is, they wouldn’t be able to tell you,” lamented Arif Khatib, founder of Oakland’s Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame and a longtime friend of Flood’s. “Nobody knows who the hell he is. That’s the sad part.”

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Sure, some remember Flood’s defiant, solo fight against Major League Baseball in 1969 that ended with a Supreme Court defeat, but led to modern free agency and the freedom to choose that players still enjoy today. Flood, though, was essentially blackballed from the sport when he refused to go to Philadelphia after being traded by St. Louis.

His reason for resisting was two-fold. First, like his hero Jackie Robinson, who famously broke baseball’s color line, Flood felt he’d found a noble mission he could champion. He told MLB Players Association director Marvin Miller he didn’t care if suing baseball would end his career as long as it would ultimately benefit other players and those to come.

Secondly, he viewed baseball’s old Reserve Clause, which bound a player to a team for as long as the team wished, as just a version of indentured servitude.

“In the history of man, there’s no other profession except slavery where one man is tied to one owner for the rest of his life,” Flood said then. “Me as a Black man, I’m probably a lot more sensitive to the rights of other people because I have been denied these rights.”

Arif Khatib at Curt Flood Field. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

A few people also remember Flood was quite …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Sports


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