Yesterday, U.S. Rep. David Trone Trone (D-Md.) and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) held a news conference calling on the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee to nominate and elect former centerfielder Curt Flood when the committee meets in December. Trone said he was looking for something that both parties could agree on, and hit on this, which is, coincidentally, something neither party has any expertise about whatsoever.
“This really resonates across both sides of the aisle,” Trone said. “Everybody in America, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, independent, white, black or brown, believes in the American dream and fairness and decency. Decency and fairness and justice. And we all believe in that at our core, in all parties, in all colors.’’
Trone says he polled colleagues in each party about supporting Flood “because Washington is such a broken community, nobody is doing stuff together. We ought to try where we can actually do something together to honor somebody who really paid a price. Curt Flood paid a pretty horrible price. He put everything on the line — his whole career, his whole life, he put it all out there on the line. It’s been really easy for people to come together and say, ‘You know what? We have to do something about this. Let’s do something decent for a change and speak to who America really is.”
Grandstanding. Race-pandering. Virtue -signaling. Abuse of position.
Also ignorant and stupid.
Curt Flood was a very good, not great, outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 60’s and 70’s. By no stretch of the imagination was he Hall of Fame caliber. In the statistical “Similarity Scores,” a device that uses position speed, defensive value and batting results to compare players (and which always shows that Hall of Fame players are most similar to other Hall of Fame player), the two most similar players to Flood are Jimmy Piersall and Dave Philley, neither of whom anyone mistook for an all-time great. Another statistical tool, the Hall of Fame Monitor invested by sabermetrics icon Bill James, Flood scores a 59 when a plausible Hall of Fame candidate under the system scores at least 100.
What the meddling Congress members are promoting Flood for is his off the field heroism. He, like many player and others in an around the sport, believed that Major League Baseball’s decades-old reserve clause was unfair and abusive. The rule kept players committed for life to the team with which they originally signed until the team traded or released them. This meant that they had no bargaining leverage, and salaries were kept artificially, indeed absurdly, low.
On October 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, and Flood refused to accept the transaction, saying that he didn’t want to pick up twelve years of his life and move to another city.” Flood’s defiance forfeited a $100,000 contract, but he decided to join with the players union in a lawsuit challenging the legality and equity of the Reserve Clause. In a letter to the Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood demanded that the Commissioner declare him a free agent, saying in part,
After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States. It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.
Kuhn denied Flood’s demand for free agency, citing still valid Reserve Clause and the fact that Flood had signed a 1969 contract including it. On January 16, 1970, Flood filed a $1 million lawsuit against Major League Baseball, alleging that the Reserve Clause was violation of federal antitrust laws. Flood v. Kuhn (407 U.S. 258) was argued before the Supreme Court on March 20, 1972. Flood’s attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, told the Court that the reserve clause depressed wages and unjustly limited players to one team for life. The Supreme Court, invoking the principle of stare decisis , ruled 5–3 in favor of Major League Baseball citing as precedent a 1922 ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League (259 U.S. 200) exempting Major League Baseball from anti-trust laws, an anomaly that still stands.
Flood was effectively blackballed from baseball following his lawsuit. Four years later the Reserve Clause was killed by an arbitrator’s decision, leading to a new labor agreement that created free agency, leading in turn to players making as much as 30 million dollars a year. People often say that Curt Flood was responsible for the end of the Reserve Clause, which is false. He was a prominent symbol of the increasingly strong movement to end that system,but its demise would have occurred eventually, and soon, with or without Flood’s lawsuit. That does not diminish the significance of his stand, nor the credit due to him for his courage and sacrifice.
The Hall of Fame, however, is specifically intended to honor players for their outstanding accomplishments on the field, not off of it, regardless of how impressive and important the latter might be. Not for the first time, the members of Congress in this matter are making assertions they are not qualified to make, and abusing the influence of their high office. As is so often the case, they just don’t know what they are talking about.
This is a nice, warm and fuzzy example of bi-partisan ignorance.
[As an aside, the headline on this story was Members of Congress unite in call for Baseball Hall of Fame to elect Curt Flood. That’s fake news, Misleading Headline Division. FOUR members of Congress were involved. The headline suggests much more than that.]