The End of the Great "National Agreement":

Breaking the Deal

Despite suits of a few no-name players like Gardella and Toolson and the contract protests of a couple of baseball's highest stars, the reserve system and Spalding's "national agreement" had remained firmly in place for almost a century. Despite sporadic protests, the system was designed so that, as Flood stated, "when truth challenges mythology, a wise ball player keeps his mouth shut" (Flood 50). But by the early 1970s, Flood had put up with enough, and he took baseball and its empty rhetoric to court. Though the reserve clause would perservere for a few more years, by 1972 much of the "national agreement" had been destroyed. Flood, one of the game's most highly paid stars, had broken the deal.

Come of age in the sixties and constantly subject to baseball's particularly cruel brand of prejudice, Flood possessed a particular background for seeing past baseball's myths; for the most part, the American public part did not. Even in a decade dedicated to change and reevaluation, many fans had no desire to question the national pastime. The epic pennant-battles of the Game raged on above the national strife, and even if many Americans supposed baseball steeped in fantasy and myth, that was just the way they liked it. When Flood brought his suit in 1970, his greatest challenge, if not a Supreme Court neck-deep in baseball lore, stood as the American baseball fan with little time for the claims of a "$90,000-a-year slave." Flood later reflected on this: "It was so difficult for the fans to understand my problems with baseball. I was telling my story to deaf ears, because I was telling my story to a person who would give their first-born child to be doing what I was doing" (qtd. in Burns). In order for Flood to break the deal that had bound the owners, players, and American public for almost a hundred years, he had to debunk the most powerful of baseball myths and establish the baseball player as an example of the American working man.

As Flood realized, for his cause to even hold a chance, baseball could not be seen as high, holy, and sacred; it must be brought back down to real life, where he always had felt it correctly belonged. Flood attacked baseball myths, and through them the baseball establishment, in several ways. In order to improve his own "corner of society," he must first destroy some of baseball and America's most sacred myths. As previously described in the section on Flood and the sixties, he sought to both physically and metaphorically go beyond the walls of Busch Stadium. Through showing baseball's antiquarian ways and prominant racism, he crafted a picture of baseball as the refuge from little but common sense. Like civil rights leaders of the early sixties, Flood sought no revolutionary change but more a fulfillment of the values that America had so long supposedly championed: "I was offended by the disparity between American reality and American pretension. I wanted reality upgraded, pretension abolished" (16). He went on to state that "the hypocrises of the baseball industry could not possibly have been sustained unless they were symptoms of wider affliction.... Baseball was socially relevant, and so was my rebellion against it" (16). Baseball changed through the times. The game constantly evolved, and the sixties marked only one particular time where the game mirrored the nation. To Flood, this was completely clear. Selling America on the social revelancy of baseball, however, would prove to be a tougher task.

In his attempt to bring baseball down from myth to reality, Flood turned to one of the classic methods for ending illusions. He described the baseball player's life in complete and vivid detail. How long, he must have wondered, could the purity of the game endure after his descriptions of a life of wild nights, drugs, and sleazy women? In The Way It Is, published in 1971 before his case reached the Supreme Court, Flood does just this. In his chapter, "The National Pastime's Pastimes," Flood vividly describes the daily drug intake needed to fuel a player through the long season and the matter-of-fact sexual arrangements made with the myriad baseball groupies in every city on the road. "The baseball establishment is permissive about revelry," Flood wrote. "It's watchword is discretion" (102). Needless to say, in describing the player's favorite dugout game of "beaver-shooting," Flood used little discretion. Flood had broken another deal, and suddenly the game did not seem quite so pure.

Flood similarly attempted to ground baseball in the rhetoric of the working man. Players were not gods patrolling the lush, pastoral fields but rather just men striving for security and stability. In reaction to his sudden trade Flood argued, "If I had been a foot-shuffling porter, they might have at least given me a pocket watch" (Flood 187). But Flood got nothing, an affront to labor everywhere. This, Flood stated, could only occur, because of the grand conception of baseball--its perceived uniqueness and sanctity. Flood variously described the ballplayer as "a consignment of goods," "poultry," "chattel," and "a car:" "As usual," he wrote, "baseball's terminology betrays its essential attitudes, which are those of animal husbandry. Baseball regards us as sheep" (143). In choosing "sheep," the exact word choice of Ward in his 19th century critique of the reserve clause, Flood illustrated how little baseball players had progressed in a century where labor reforms had swept the nation. As Flood took one more swing at baseball and its pedestal, the "national agreement" stood on its last leg.

As Flood's case hurtled toward the Supreme Court, he neared the close of what Miller called an "assault on the handful of words that had held baseball players in bondage for a century" (Miller 175-6). Though many journalists and fans still viewed Flood as "a destroyer, an ingrate, a fanatic, a dupe" (Flood 16). Flood had confidence that the highest court in the land would finally restore justice to baseball.

Introduction Baseball Myths Labor History Flood's Life Flood and the 60s Black Power The Courts Legacies

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Maintained by Pat Brady
Last Modified: December 21, 1997