Thursday, December 24, 2009

Basseball and integrity: Curt Flood's stand on principle

It's a very rare thing when standing for principle is a nationally seismic thing, with ripples felt long after you're gone, everywhere in your profession, felt so long and deeply that newcomers to that profession almost take its fruits for granted.

Curt Flood took such a stand 40 years ago today, with a letter that amounted to pro sports' equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation, one man's statement of a singular and necessary self-possession. Others in the same era pursued the same or similar objectives, but Curt Flood's effort resonates in its solitariness, its sense of one man against the system that resonates emotionally, no matter how doomed or quixotic it's believed to be.

My take on this personal broadside on pro baseball's "reserve clause" runs in full in today's edition of theGrio. Here's part of the tribute:
While today's attention to the game of baseball is focused on off-season trades -- in this the time of the so-called hot stove league -- major league baseball marks a milestone on Dec. 24, one that may fly under the radar, but one that truly contributed to something in the DNA of professional sports.

Curtis Charles Flood, the stellar St. Louis Cardinals center fielder and seven-time Gold Glove winner, was to be traded with three other players to the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the 1969 season. ...

Flood objected, citing personal and family reasons, as well as reasons pertaining to outside business interests. On Dec. 24, 1969, Flood sent Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn a simply worded letter making his desires clear. ...

The letter — a deft balance of emotion and devastating logic — was one of the first direct challenges of major league baseball's infamous reserve clause, by which a player was bound body and soul to a team regardless of the player's wishes ...

The era of free agency ushered in by Flood’s stand on principle was a confirmation of the national drive for progress, change and the power of the new.

Image credit: Curt Flood: Excerpts © 2009 NBC Universal.

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