Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Zisk Book Review Corner by Mark Hughson

A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight For Free Agency In Professional Sports, by Brad Snyder

There was much I learned from this book, but the biggest shocker came when I was halfway through A Well-Paid Slave and realized that it was not written by a baseball scribe, but by a lawyer. After that revelation, the style of writing and the overall focus made a lot more sense. The book is extremely detailed, (for example, I now know that pitching coach Howie Pollet brought the salad to the Cardinals’ 1962 spring training barbeque), and when Flood’s case hits the Supreme Court, the actual game of baseball takes a back seat to legal procedures and politics.

That being said, the book is not without merit. It consistently shades Flood as a brave (but flawed) hero, balking at a $100,000 salary to do what he believed was right. The fact that commissioner Bowie Kuhn and all the team owners are portrayed as moustache twirling villains, counting their money in the backroom, is satisfying as well. Snyder takes the time to establish Flood as a strong, civil-rights minded individual, highlighting the racism he endured in the minor leagues and his trade from the Reds to the Cardinals in ’57, after which he vowed never to be “treated like property” again.

Even though every ballplayer alive today owes their wealth to Flood, he is generally not recognized by them. However, he was a household name in the late ‘60s, both as a player and as a media/sports tabloid icon, and the star power of the book is pretty solid. He was a good friend of teammate Bob Gibson. Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg testified on his behalf at his trial. During Flood’s brief return to the major leagues he butted heads with then-Senators manager Ted Williams.

Aside from the fact that I now feel like I’m qualified to practice law in at least three states, the book
did pour a lot of baseball info into my brain. I think the biggest lesson involved just how unfair the reserve clause was. In terms of salary, yes, it was unfair, but from a baseball lover’s perspective as well—and that includes both the players and the fans. For example, let’s say you were a darn good first baseman. You could be a starter on another team for sure. Except, you aren’t on another team, you’re on the Twins with Harmon Killebrew or on the Reds with Frank Robinson. Those guys won’t be scratched off the line-up card anytime soon, and you’re stuck riding a bench, sometimes during your prime years. But what if you truly are a superstar, and you deserve to be an everyday player? Maybe the manager will trade you to a team that could use you. No, actually, they won’t, and for that exact reason. Some great baseball players lost their chance to play, not because the players deserved punishment, but because teams did not want superior talent to go to the competition.

It was kind of a harsh reality, and Curt Flood’s fight was indeed martyr-like—he more or less became a penniless recluse for the last 20 years of his life. Not a very “sunshine and green grass” baseball book. However, the benefits of what he did are still seen in the game today, and this book recognizes that with a great amount of respect. And detail. Lots and lots of detail.

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