By Alan Steele
It has been 36 years since St. Louis Cardinal Curt Flood's antitrust lawsuit against commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball. Since then, the lot of the professional athlete has improved to a degree that could scarcely have been imagined at the time. Conversely, the passing years have diminished the perception of Flood to that of a historical footnote in the minds of many, including some of the athletes who have benefited most from his sacrifices. Brad Snyder's "A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports" (Viking) is an effective argument for a reconsideration of the man and his struggle.
This biographical approach is essential in understanding his motivations, and Snyder paints Flood as a noble and sympathetic figure, struggling with his own demons even as he realizes that his decision may cost him more than he anticipated.
Flood recedes to the background for a time as Players Association director Marvin Miller, attorney Arthur Goldberg and the Supreme Court justices are featured. Justice Harry Blackmun's majority opinion, infamous more for an introduction featuring a lengthy list of great and near-great baseball players than for any demonstration of judicial acumen, is particularly memorable. But in the end, the narrative tends to get bogged down in legal intricacies, and is most compelling when the focus is on Flood.
The book's title refers to the controversial Flood quote that "A well-paid slave is still a slave." Many found it difficult to empathize with a professional athlete earning a $90,000 salary but decrying his lack of freedom. But journalist George Will had reason to refer to Flood as "Dred Scott in spikes." Flood risked and lost a great deal so others could someday achieve professional liberty. Snyder has honored him with an honest and respectful portrayal that deserves to be read.
Issue 1.31: November 23, 2006