Today is the birthday of Curt Flood, whose refusal to be traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies and the subsequent legal battle (Flood v. Kuhn) defined free agency as we know it today. Flood sacrificed his career, which might have been a Hall of Fame one, for the rights of baseball players not to be sold like cattle between clubs. Say what you will about Barry Zito’s current contract, professional sports would not look like they do today if not for Flood. (There is a lot to say about Barry Zito’s current contract. Free agency does not excuse stupidity, San Francisco Giants.)
Brad Snyder’s A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports is an incredible though hefty look at Flood’s life, career, and lawsuit, and is a great read if you’re willing to slog through or are curious about the legal nitty-gritty of the case; if you just want well-written information (and a great look at ’70s baseball in general), my buddy Dan Epstein covers Flood and free agency really well in Big Hair And Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball And America In The Swinging ’70s.
The minor key indie rock dirge of “Gratitude (For Curt Flood)” always raises the goosebumps on my arms, every time I hear it. It’s one of my favorite things about the Baseball Project and their songwriting: for every song about every Stephen Strasburg, there’s a gorgeous love song to someone else who shaped the game but might not be a household name.
(This is my Baseball Project story: during YR15, back in October, the crowd at the Cradle overloaded cell phone networks, and thus a bunch of baseball fan types shared playoff scores around the crowd, cribbed from slow phones and peering through the windows at Bada Wings’ TVs in between sets. After checking on the Orioles / Yankees Game 4 in the 5th inning or so, I stood outside the Cradle for a bit and discussed Joe Saunders with a slightly tipsy, crazy-haired, genial gentleman in a Giants cap. I thought he was a slightly nutty, slightly tipsy, thoroughly genial Giants fan! He turned out to be Baseball Project frontman Scott McCaughey. He is an excellent dude, yo, and when I told him what I had thought later in the weekend, he laughed and said, “I am a slightly tipsy genial Giants fan!”. Also: Joe Saunders, bringing people together for … one week in October 2012, and never before or since.)