Heading Home:

Legacies

"At last it ends," Flood wrote in his 1971 autobiography. "The athletic celebrity recedes into twilight. Time draws him from center stage to the wings to oblivion. It converts him from celebrity to recent celebrity to former celebrity and finally emancipates (or condemns) him to whatever he can make of himself in the world at large" (112). Despite all the "consciousness raising" that Curt Flood did accomplish, the next few years would hold more condemning than emancipating for the former star. Flood spent most of the next five years in Europe, where people played cricket and the great heroes did more than swat home runs. "If you do what I did to baseball," he later said. "If you destroyed the underpinnings of this great American sport, you are a hated, ugly, detestable person" (qtd. in Ryan). Yet Flood would return to the United States, and while many would not let him forget his agregious affront to the great American game, when he recently succumbed to throat cancer on January 20, 1997, many praised Flood as a pioneer, a legend, and a hero. While his devotion to principle cut short his baseball dreams, Flood proved an All-Star "in the world at large."

In 1978, Flood accepted a job broadcasting Oakland A's games under renegade owner Charles Finley. Though shortlived, Flood would never get closer to Major League Baseball. He later moved to Los Angeles and married his long-time friend, actress Judy Pace. Flood took part in a few baseball ventures including the ill-fated United Baseball League and a league where old-time players would get the chance to play again. Neither took off, but Flood found satisfaction and even greater meaning away from the baseball field. Remembering the tough times of his childhood, Flood spent much of his timing running a home for disadvantaged city youth in Los Angeles.

Even by the time Flood returned from Europe in the late 1970s, baseball had become, as Miller would entitle his book, "A Whole Different Ballgame." Despite promises to debate and modify the reserve clause after the Flood case, the owners, as always behind the time, decided to sit on the reserve clause for a few more years. In 1975, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally filed grievances against the reserve clause. The case eventually reached arbitration and Peter Seitz. With Flood's arguments now well established and much more accepted throughout America, Seitz ruled in favor of the players and against baseball--stating that the reserve clause only kept players with their team for one year. While still anomalously legal, the reserve clause's reign had ended. Sadly, though, the duo did not share Flood's convictions to moral principles but instead based their claim on more practical reasons. "I didn't do it necessarily for myself because I'm making a lot of money," Messersmith said. "I don't want everyone to think, 'Well, here's a guy in involuntary servitude at $115,000 a year.' That's a lot of bull and I know it" (qtd. in Helyar 170). Ironically, Messersmith achieved Flood's goal while directly refuting his claims. In 1975, reform movements crept toward their ends, and America and Messersmith no longer talked in such grand, sweeping statements. Messersmith and McNally achieved success without the direct challenge to baseball's hierarchy that Flood had believed necessary just five years earlier. In a rare moment of anger, Flood reflected on the decision: "All the grand work was laid for people who came after me. The Supreme Court decided not to give it to me, so they gave it to two white guys. I think that's what they were waiting for" (qtd. in Schulman).

Salaries skyrocketed. Since the origins of professional baseball until 1976, player salaries hovered around eight times that of the average American working man. By 1994, baseball players on average made 50 times the average worker. Today, the mean salary stands over one million dollars. Near the end of Flood's life, when salaries soared into amazingly high numbers, he never stated that players earned too much but merely that they had finally received what the players of his day deserved.

Curt Flood left a very different America from the one into which he was born and a very different one from that in which he first brought his suit. In the last decade, Flood has moved from blasphemer to hero, from ingrate to pioneer, and from dupe to legend. Ken Burns, in his popular documentary, "Baseball," featured Flood as a pioneer, a man ahead of his time. Spike Lee did a piece on HBO about Flood just before his death. By Flood's death in January, 1997, the press almost uniformally heaped praise upon the former centerfielder. Some even trumpeted Flood for the Hall of Fame. Upon Flood's death, Bill Patterson of California founded the Curt Flood Committee. The committee recently renamed a ballpark Curt Flood Field and hope to soon have a statue and a scholarship for law school. The day following Flood's death, Senator Orrin Hatch of Oregon introduced "The Curt Flood Act" to congress. Speaking of the long overdue law which would legally end baseball's anti-trust exemption, Hatch stated, "the time has come to finish what Curt Flood so couragely begun." Congressmen introduced a similar bill, with his number, 21, in the House. Heading into the turn of the century, America stood more prepared to accept the complex and controversial leader like Curt Flood.

In one of Flood's last interviews, he sat down with the San Francisco Chronicle's Joan Ryan. The two discussed Flood's present life, his case, his shaken belief in the American Dream following the Supreme Court decision. Near the interview's close, Ryan asked if Flood had any regrets. Flood paused a moment before speaking:

I lost money, coaching jobs, a shot at the Hall of Fame. But when you weigh that against all the things that are really and truly important, things that are deep inside you, then I think I've succeeded. People try to make a Greek tragedy of my life, and they can't do it. I'm too happy. Remember when I told you about the American dream? That if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough and kicked yourself in the butt, you'd succeed? Well, I think I did, I think I did.

Curt Flood's 1970 suit of baseball represented much more than the complaint of a discontented player or the cries of a corrupt baseball aristocracy. Baseball itself means many things to America, but perhaps more than anything else it means the past. In baseball, though, as in everything, in striving to represent some idealized past, we often oversimplify things. The reserve clause made for a much more orderly and predictable game, but in so doing it ignored such supposed American high ideals as self-determination, freedom, and capitalism. These abstractions are not simple; when they come down to real life, things never go as smoothly as we like to think they should. Working capitalism can be a very ugly system, but the solution is not to turn away from it, to some recreation of an ancient Jeffersonian dream, but to try to harness the forces of the day as best as we can. Spalding's "national agreement" spanned nearly a century, but eventually fell due to a decade of change, racial discrimination, and one brave and stalwart individual. Curt Flood's suit of baseball served as a framework in which the nation could wage the time-old battle between tradition and reform. Set in a decade of social protest and change, baseball, our grand National Pastime, forced America to weigh such values as tradition and history against freedom and change. An America still reeling from other broad reforms first loudly declared "no!" to Flood, with even the Supreme Court finding a way to sneak out the back door of the justice system. But Americans slowly adapted, and shortly thereafter, the reserve clause had disappeared. Free agency has radically changed baseball and questioned the myths that hover around it, but it is in accepting this change, and thereby accepting that freedom is not always as simple as we would like it to be, that America moves closer to its goals. Curt Flood's suit of baseball provided an important glimpse into a culture on the border of a change, pondering fundamental questions that one would rarely associate with hot dogs and cracker jacks. As Americans, baseball will always be our game; let's just be sure, Curt Flood seems to remind us, exactly what that means.


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

Works Cited and
Suggested Reading
Back Forward

Maintained byPat Brady
Last Modified: December 21, 1997