Curt Flood and a Triumph of "The Show Me" Spirit

By Devine, James R. | Missouri Law Review, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Curt Flood and a Triumph of "The Show Me" Spirit


Devine, James R., Missouri Law Review


I. Introduction

Curt Flood was not a Show Me State native. (1) Born in Houston, Texas, in January 1938, the last of six children, Flood moved as a child with his family to Oakland, California. (2) From early on, Flood "was precociously coordinated." (3) He was able to run, catch, and throw a ball better than much older children. (4) He began playing organized baseball at the age of nine in a police league and knew by the time he was a teen that he might make a living at baseball. (5) Although he was shorter and lighter than most professional ball players, at the age of eighteen, fresh out of high school, in 1956, Flood signed a $4000 yearly contract with the Cincinnati Reds. (6)

In 1956 and 1957, Reds management assigned Flood to play minor league baseball first at Class B High Point-Thomasville in the Carolina League and then at Savannah, Georgia, in the Class A South Atlantic League. (7) Flood endured extreme racial hatred. (8) His teammates and fans called him names, and his team prohibited him from eating in regular dining rooms and from lodging with the rest of the players. (9) Although this treatment made play almost impossible, Flood led the Carolina League in all offensive categories except home runs in 1956 and was named an all star in the South Atlantic League in 1957. (10) He also received brief call-ups to the Reds at the end of each season. (11)

On December 5, 1957, the Reds traded Flood and Joe Taylor to the St. Louis Cardinals for Marty Kutyna, Ted Wieand, and Willard Schmidt. (12) As the United States Supreme Court would later write in his case: "Flood rose to fame as a center fielder with the Cardinals during the years 1958-1969.... He played errorless ball in the field in 1966, and once enjoyed 223 consecutive errorless games." (13) Most commentators consider him one of the best center fielders of his time. (14) Offensively, he led the league in at-bats in 1963 and 1964, in hits in 1964, and in singles in 1963, 1964, and 1968. (15) He played on winning World Series teams in 1964 against the Yankees and in 1967 against the Red Sox. (16) He also played on the 1968 Cardinals team that lost the World Series to the Tigers. (17)

In light of the racism Flood faced as he progressed through the Reds minor league system, he thought the 1967-68 Cardinals team was "the most remarkable team in the history of baseball," and not merely because of its performance on the field. (18) The team was, in Flood's view, a culturally enlightened group. (19) "The men of that team were as close to being free of racist poison as a diverse group of twentieth-century Americans could possibly be." (20) Flood, along with Tim McCarver, who was white, captained the team. (21) This biracial leadership united the team without forcing race on any culture. (22) The desire to win, so that each team member could make more money, bound together the group. (23) The team believed that it was "the envy of the league," not just because of the play of its members on the field, "but because [they] were the warmest and closest." (24)

High team morale, however, deteriorated in 1969 following negotiations between the Baseball Players' Association and baseball owners over pensions and other issues. (25) In 1966, the Baseball Players' Association appointed former steelworker's union official Marvin Miller as its executive director. (26) Led by Miller, the Players' Association entered into professional sport's first collective bargaining agreement in 1968. (27) One of the labor issues between players and owners was the players' pension fund due to expire just prior to the start of the 1969 season. (28) When Miller learned that owners were not planning on continuing to fund the pension plan, he suggested players not report for spring training in 1969, and only one player reported on February 13th, the reporting date for pitchers and catchers. (29) Player/owner negotiations extended the plan through 1971, and most players showed up for training by February 25th. …

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