A readable study of baseball’s bad old days, when owners kept players on short leashes and superstars made only $100,000.
When the Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Phillies in 1969, he didn’t want to go; in a time of black civil-rights activism and considerable tension, he likened the swap to a slave auction. There was small support in the baseball world; when Flood filed suit against the Cards ownership, players such as Carl Yastrzemski accused him of trying to ruin the game, while, as attorney and sports enthusiast Snyder notes, the fans “lacked sympathy for . . . athletes perceived to be spoiled and overpaid, rather than subjugated and oppressed.” Flood did not help matters when he insisted that a well-paid slave was still a slave, and the trade was not undeserved. Flood spent much of his free time drinking, and his performance in the 1968 World Series was maddening: An error he made in the final game cost the Cards the championship. Still, Flood was a man of some integrity, even if the portraits for which the former art student was richly commissioned were painted by someone else and merely signed by him. He accepted responsibility for the loss of that crucial game, and, insisting that he was acting on behalf of all players, he fought against the hated reserve clause, which in essence gave owners unilateral power to extend a player’s contract for a year and cut his pay in the bargain. Flood teamed up with an unconventional attorney, Marvin Miller, who recruited former Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg to argue the case all the way up to the Supreme Court—where they lost. Nonetheless, as Snyder capably shows, the case did open the way to free agency and to today’s player-centric landscape, for better or worse.
A welcome addition to baseball history, especially given that Flood’s battle is now all but unknown.