From The Ethics Alarms “Butt Out!” Files: Now Members Of Congress Are Telling The Hall Of Fame Who To Enshrine

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.]

17 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms “Butt Out!” Files: Now Members Of Congress Are Telling The Hall Of Fame Who To Enshrine

  1. As any good White Sox fan, I grew up hating the Cubs. My first ever major league game was a Cardinals vs. Cubs doubleheader. Thus my affinity was born for the 1960s Cardinals. I vividly recall racing the six blocks home from first grade in the fall of 1967 to catch the Cardinals in the World Series. Curt Flood was a significant part of the Cardinals success, but far from the team’s star group of Brock, Gibson, Carlton, McCarver and others.

    Mr. Flood does not belong in the Hall of Fame alongside such centerfield greats as Tris Speaker and Joe DiMaggio, though I will always fondly remember his aggressive base running, solid hitting, and strong play in outfield.

  2. A better suggestion would be for congress to recommend to Trump that he be awarded the presidential medal of freedom. But that might make Trump look good, so they can’t have that

    -Jut

  3. Let’s look, though at Hall of Fame inductee A, who has the following numbers vis-a-vis the Hall of Fame:
    Black Ink: 8 (average HOF member – 27)
    Gray Ink: 121 (Average HOF member – 144)
    Hall of Fame Monitor: 98 (Likely HOF member – 100)
    Hall of Fame Standards: 38 (Average HOF member – 50)

    Hall of Fame inductee A, though, is widely considered a worthy member, being elected in 1962 with 77.5% of voters putting him on the ballot. Yet, there is some significant shortfalls in three of the four metrics. Flood, in fact, was a superior defender over his career than Hall of Fame inductee A, with seven Gold Gloves (won in seven consecutive years). Hall of Fame inductee A didn’t win a single one.

    In fact, Active Player B has a much higher Hall of Fame Monitor score (117) than Hall of Fame inductee A, a higher Black Ink total (16), ties Hall of Fame inductee A in Gray Ink (38), and is slightly behind in Gray Ink (117).

    I think that Hall of Fame inductee A’s first-ballot induction into Cooperstown was for more than just the numbers he posted. Once you click the link, you will see why. There is not much chance Active Player B will be inducted, despite the fact that in these Hall of Fame metrics, he is arguably stronger. Again,. click the link, and see why.

    Curt Flood’s off-field actions eventually led to change in major league baseball, and it was necessary to help end the exploitation of the players.

    Both he, and Tommy John, deserve to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    • Your links don’t work, but I know who A is. As has been explained many times, his pure numbers are artificially reduced because he lost at least 4 or 5 because blacks weren’t allowed to play until he broke the color line. Players who are HOF caliber, as Jackie Robinson was, almost never get into the bigs at 28, which is typically at the end of a player’s prime years.Give him a debut at 23, and his numbers are easily HOF. Flood had no such handicap to be taken into consideration. He was a regular at 20. He was in decline by the time he was traded. Flood has two “black number” in his whole career (I don’t count ABs):he led the NL once in hits, once in caught stealing. Jackie has 9 Black Letter marks in a 10 season career. His career WAR is 50% better than Flood’s in a career 66% as long. Robinson would probably have been elected even without his status as a civil rights icon. His situation was like Hank Greenberg’s who lacked typical HOF numbers because of his service in WWII., which cost him three years in his prime. He was averaging more than 40 homers a year, and those three years would have given him over 425 homers.

      I’m not even sure Flood is more deserving than last year’s awful selection, Harold Baines.

  4. Let’s look, though at Hall of Fame inductee A, who has the following numbers vis-a-vis the Hall of Fame:
    Black Ink: 8 (average HOF member – 27)
    Gray Ink: 121 (Average HOF member – 144)
    Hall of Fame Monitor: 98 (Likely HOF member – 100)
    Hall of Fame Standards: 38 (Average HOF member – 50)

    Hall of Fame inductee A, though, is widely considered a worthy member, being elected in 1962 with 77.5% of voters putting him on the ballot. Yet, there is some significant shortfalls in three of the four metrics. Flood, in fact, was a superior defender over his career than Hall of Fame inductee A, with seven Gold Gloves (won in seven consecutive years). Hall of Fame inductee A didn’t win a single one.

    In fact, Active Player B has a much higher Hall of Fame Monitor score (117) than Hall of Fame inductee A, a higher Black Ink total (16), ties Hall of Fame inductee A in Gray Ink (38), and is slightly behind in Gray Ink (117).

    I think that Hall of Fame inductee A’s first-ballot induction into Cooperstown was for more than just the numbers he posted. Once you click the link, you will see why. There is not much chance Active Player B will be inducted, despite the fact that in these Hall of Fame metrics, he is arguably stronger. Again,. click the link, and see why.

    Curt Flood’s off-field actions eventually led to change in major league baseball, and it was necessary to help end the exploitation of the players.

    Both he, and Tommy John, deserve to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    (apologies for the double post- I messed up the HTML in the first one)

  5. Curt Flood’s on-the-field numbers aren’t remotely worthy of the Hall. Defensive prowess alone rarely warrants induction. I realize Ozzie Smith is one notable exception, and his offensive numbers are actually worse than Flood’s. But Smith had nearly 600 stolen bases and showcased his wizardry with the glove at the game’s most difficult position. And in defensive WAR – not an end-all-be-all statistic, but a very solid measure – Smith is the best of all time. Curt Flood ranks 220th. Heck, Garry Maddox had very similar defensive abilities, ranks higher in dWAR than Flood, was better offensively, and could run – and he received exactly 0 votes his one time on the HOF ballot.

    If Curt Flood is allowed into the Hall of Fame for baseball numbers, then 70% of the players should be enshrined, at which point it ceases to be the Hall of Fame. Yeah, give him some other award or create a “Hall of Great Miscellaneous Achievements” or something…but don’t water down Cooperstown with his bust.

    Between this and impeachment, clearly some members of the House don’t have enough to do. Maybe we need to get rid of some of them.

  6. Bill James created another little formula (“The Favorite Toy”) that guesses whether a player will reach a certain milestone, based on his current age and production. Flood was 31 and had 1854 hits (that’s a lot) when he refused to report in 1970. The Toy projects that Flood would finish his career with over 2800 hits if he had just kept playing, and gives him a 35% chance of reaching 3000 hits. If he had reached 3000 hits Flood would have been inducted, so Flood had at least a plausible path to the Hall when he interrupted his career. The Toy takes no notice that Flood played most of his career in an era that greatly favored pitchers, and that he sat out just as conditions turned back to the hitters.

    • Last week, our oldest son discovered a coil spring sticking out of the front bumper of his new car. He had no idea where it came from, but upon closer inspection, he realized he had driven over it, and it had been pulled up from the road and shot through the bumper. Yikes! My wife’s first response was, “What if that spring had torn up the front tire at 65mph?!?”

      I’m going somewhere with this…

      Projecting a “what-if” scenario into a real-life “what-was” is fraught with peril. The “what-if” is almost always – not always, but most of the time – much worse than the “what-was”. What if my child had taken three more steps off the curb…? What if that car hadn’t missed mine by six inches…” What if the pilot of the single-engine plane had not been able to restart the engine when it stalled…? Our lives are filled with dozens, maybe hundreds, of these occurrences, where were look back and say…what if…

      The same holds true for Curt Flood, just from the other side of the argument. Here the argument isn’t that something worse would have happened, it’s that something better would have happened. What if his career not been derailed…?…he would have continued to produce for another ten years and reached 3k hits. His defense would not fall off. He would not have blown out his knee rounding the bases. He would not have taken a fastball to the eye, like Dickie Thon, that completely altered his career trajectory.

      Bill James is a much-respected man in the sport of baseball, but projections have no basis in reality. The “what-if” of Flood’s career is impossible to accurately project. It’s statistical guessing. That’s why the HoF voters use – or SHOULD use – the “what-was”. Again, Flood was a good player, and a very good defensive player by the looks of it.

      A Hall-of-Fame player? Not a chance, unless the Veteran’s Committee wants to reduce the bar to entry.

      My opinions alone…chew carefully before swallowing.

      • The WWII veterans should be an exception, where appropriate, though. Last year James did an extensive analysis of HOF players, identifying a group that shouldn’t be in the Hall, and another group that obviously should. His method was to combine the WAR scores with James’ Win Shares systems, arriving at a Hall of Fame score. A player who had a better score than a HOFer had a “win”; if there were non-active players not in the Hall that had a better score, each would be a loss. Thus every player in the study had a won-lost record. There were 48 (or so; I can’t find the book) HOF players who had perfect records, beginning with Babe Ruth: they all had no “losses.” To make the system work, James explained that some players had to be omitted. Players like the PED group, who had fabulous stats but were out of the Hall for other reasons–Rose, Bonds, Shoeless Joe, etc. He also left out HOF players like Jackie, Greenberg, and Phil Rizzuto, who lost pro=ine years in the war, or, in Robinson’s case, due to segregation.

    • What is also forgotten is that Flood would likely have had more Gold Glove awards in addition to the offensive totals. Had he played until the age Jackie Robinson retired (by refusing to report after being traded to the New York Giants), he would have as many as five more.

      So assuming Flood had as many as a dozen consecutive Gold Gloves, with 2600-2800 hits, you have a case at least as good as Ozzie Smith’s.for the Hall of Fame.

      • No, you really don’t. Smith was a better shortstop by all metrics than Flood was a centerfielder, and we now know that the Gold Glove award is evidence of popularity and reputation, not actual superiority. Smith rests at the tippity top of historical fielding ratings for his position. Flood is high, but several non-HOFers are ahead of him. The fact is that measuring fielding is still a dodgy process, because the stats are misleading. In Flood’s day, fielding average was a big deal. But you can’t make an error if you never touch the ball.We now rank outfielders by range, zone, where the ball was hit and how hard. That data doesn’t exist for players of Flood’s era. He looked good. But in 2018, when Jackie Bradley Jr. won the AL Gold Glove in center, the metrics showed him to be a middle of the pack fielder.

  7. One thing that will be interesting over the next few years will be how the Marvin Miller-Curt Flood relationship will be viewed now that the political issue of Miller’s Hall of Fame induction has been decided. I unfortunately don’t own Miller’s book anymore, but working from my memory of that book I think that there were about four places where he failed in his obligations to Flood:

    1. After his contract was traded, Flood brought his St. Louis business lawyer to New York to meet with Miller and union lawyer Don Fehr about a challenge to the reserve clause. Miller and Fehr gave Flood a pessimistic rundown of the history of court challenges, but did not give him a firm “You can’t win this,” or “The union has to deal with these things through collective bargaining.”

    2. Miller doesn’t seem to have given Flood any context about the history of the union. Miller had been hired in 1966 as the first professional leader the union ever had, and had negotiated the union’s first collective bargaining agreement in 1968. He should have explained that the conditions the players worked under were in part caused by the players not having professional representation for years, but that that had just changed and so it was not time for impatience, let alone despair.

    3. Miller arranged for Flood to meet with the board of the union, so that the union would bankroll Flood’s litigation. As part of the agreement to do so, the union extracted a promise from Flood that he would pursue the case through all appeals, even if Flood was presented with an attractive settlement offer. Over the years there had been instances where determined players had begun to play out the one-year option in their contracts, and they had been accomodated in some way. Miller and the union extracted a pledge that Flood would see the case through no matter how good the settlement offer.

    4. The union and Miller supplied counsel, Arthur Goldberg, for Flood. Miller concedes that Goldberg had passed from effective litigator to politician, and that he was chosen more for his influence than for courtroom skills. One must wonder if Goldberg wasn’t chosen because active antitrust litigators were consulted and found to be pessimistic.

    Other than his St. Louis lawyer, who recognized that he was in over his head, it doesn’t seem like Flood ever had anyone in his corner while he was involved in his litigation. It was for publicity, it was a harassing second front to use as leverage in collective bargaining, but it wasn’t intended to get a good result for Flood.

    To return to the post, I’m not sure how much of a hero Flood can be. He was passive, he did not make sharp decisions, and when the time came to play again he was out of shape and unproductive. The gains made by top-flight baseball players since the Flood case are mirrored by gains made be top-flight athletes in other sports, including those outside of the US, and gains made by the top rung of other entertainers. It’s not clear how the man himself was influential.

Leave a Reply to Inquiring Mind Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.