As a Ballplayer:

Flood and Black Power

Until Tom Haller spoke up, it had been business as usual as Flood met with the Players Association's executive board. The player reps had asked the exact same questions as Miller, as Goldberg, and as all the reporters had: "Do you realize you might never play again?" "Will you accept a better contract to settle the case?" "Are you aware how much this could mean to future players?" Flood answered the questions automatically, as he always had--yes, no, yes. In fact, he hardly had to think until Haller spoke. "This is a period of black militance," Haller stated. "Do you feel you're doing this as part of that movement? Because you're black?" The question caught Miller and several others by surprise, but Flood remained as calm as ever. "All the things you say are true," he agreed. "And I'd be lying if I told you that as a black man in baseball I hadn't gone through worse times than my teammates. I'll also say, yes, I think the change in black consciuosness in recent years has made me more sensitive to injustice in every area of my life. But I want you to know that what I'm doing here I'm doing as a ballplayer, a major league ballplayer" (qtd. in Miller 186).

While Flood largely dodged the controversial label of Black Power, his suit of baseball sprung not only from the reform-minded sixties, but from Flood's experience as a black man in a racist America and a particularly prejudiced baseball. More than anything else, the discrimination Flood faced due to his race served to shatter the myths and sanctity of baseball. While Busch and maybe even Cards first baseman Stan Musial could still see baseball as a meritocratic refuge in an unfair world, Flood was never allowed such self-delusion. Through prejudiced managers, cruel fans, and even contract negotiations, Flood learned that baseball served as no level playing field--certainly not for a black man. It is hard to dwell too long in the mythical when you are constantly facing taunts of "nigger" and "eight-ball." While Flood did not bring suit against baseball as a black man, from the start of his career, he and all other blacks remained baseball outsiders. From this vantage point, Flood decided to challenge the reserve clause.

Growing up in a largely black community in Oakland, baseball first exposed Flood to just how prejudiced American society could be. Playing almost his entire minor league career in the deep South, Flood faced a prejudice stronger than he had ever imagined. He described his shock at seeing the separate water fountains, the hotel diversions to "Ma Felder's," and the sadness that faced a young man realizing he was only on a team when wearing a uniform. Of his first weeks in the South, Flood later confessed that "I used to break into tears as soon as I reached the safety of my room" (38).

Later in Flood's career with the Cardinals, an openly racist manager, Solly Hemus, gave Flood and some of the other black players precious few opportunities for action. As Flood noted, black utility infielders and pinch hitters simply did not exist in the majors. A black played great or else he played in the minors. When he and his wife tried to buy a home in a white neighborhood, he heard most of the community try to talk him out of it. During his suit against baseball, he often received letters addressed simply, "Dear Nigger." While many of the owners could boast of Jackie Robinson and the great egalitarian world of baseball, Flood simply knew this to be untrue. Flood later described a conversation he had with Busch about the segregated living arrangements during Spring Training. During the course of the talk Flood realized that Busch was just learning about the arrangement. "It just shows how you can segregate yourself into the back seat of a limosine and never really know what's going on," Flood stated (qtd. in Burns). Flood would never have that desire or luxury.

Despite all the ugliness Flood saw at the ballpark and the nation at large, it was no doubt racism in a contract negotiation that most shaped his views of the reserve clause. After learning that a white player got a raise when there was no money for Flood, he inquired to the executive. "I was told by the general manager that a white player had received a higher raise than me," Flood later recalled. "Because white people required more money to live than black people. That is why I wasn't going to get a raise" (qtd. in Burns). If playing baseball failed to live up to the tirelessly constructed dream Americans had made it to be, contract negotiations, thanks to the reserve clause, were a plain nightmare.

Racism helped open Flood's eyes to the hypocrises of baseball, yet he claimed he sued simply as "a baseball player." Throughout the suit, however, no one in America forgot that Flood was a black baseball player. At the time of Flood's suit in 1970, Americans had an increasingly uneasy view of Black Power. While the Civil Rights Movement and its methods of nonviolent resistance had succeeded in raising the consciousness of most of America, the Black Power movements gaining steam at the end of the decade made many Americans increasingly uneasy. Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers challenged not only America's consciousness, but its peace of mind. Flood faced the unenviable position of emerging as a controversial black at a top when much of America had grown tired of controversial blacks. Many in the press condemned Flood as another uppity black, seeking merely self-gain and caring little about tradition. Americans felt quite comfortable in acknowledging this view that the owners tried desperately to spread. Even with all of Flood's talk about principles and morality, much of American alternatingly saw Flood as a selfish opportunist and the ignorant dupe of the Miller's plan to destroy baseball. But in his quiet dignity Flood challenged American's views about not only baseball, but race. To some Americans long disenchanted with baseball, Flood's principled stand brought life back to the game. Writer Gerald Early described what Flood meant to himself and many other black youth:

In the sixties, I felt that baseball had lost some of its resonance for me, because these players did not seem to be in touch with what was going on. Everything was becoming very politicized, and this was particularly true for black players.... [To] the very argument that [older players] were going to give about the status quo... I said because it must be done, that we must be willing to show that we were willing to pay a price in order to be treated with dignity.

In giving up his baseball career and showing that he was willing to suffer, Flood followed the precedent that particularly black sixties reformers had set. Yet in knocking down the stone walls of the mythic baseball castle and bringing the game down to real life, Flood broke the "national agreement" that Spalding first coined and which had held for almost a century.

Introduction Baseball Myths Labor History Flood's Life Flood and the 60s Breaking the Deal The Courts Legacies

Works Cited and
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Maintained by Pat Brady
Last Modified: December 21, 1997