The Five Hole with Chris Gift

Over this past weekend, Major League Baseball honored Jackie Robinson, and deservedly so. But like everything MLB does it was almost too cheesy.

Entire teams wearing No. 42, discussion over if players are worthy of wearing it, and ESPN did its best to make sure we were smothered with coverage of an event that could have been done classily but was too commercialized.

But I'll say this: I'm glad they decided to go crazy over Robinson. Because of Robinson, and other steps at integration (such as Don Haskins' Texas Western beating Adolph Rupp's Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA basketball tournament), sports in this country, not to mention the country as a whole is a better place.

As successful as it was, maybe another player should be honored on the anniversary of something landmark that he did.

Now more than ever, baseball is a sport ruled by numbers. This player's numbers weren't all that special. He hit .293 with 85 homeruns and 636 RBI over the course of 12 full seasons, and parts of three others. He was a threetime All-Star, and finished as high as fourth in the MVP voting. He won seven Gold Gloves, three pennants, and two World Championships. He led the National League in at bats twice, and hits once.

His numbers are similar to those of Lou Pinella, Gary Maddox, and Terry Puhl.

But there isn't one player on either team today, or on the other 28 teams, or any player that has played on any team since 1970 that shouldn't thank him every day they wake up and they are major leaguers.

With a simple 126-word letter dated Christmas Eve of 1969 to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, he changed baseball forever. That letter reads:

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.

-Curt Flood

On October 7, 1969 Flood was traded from the Cardinals to Philadelphia (with Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver for Jerry Johnson, Dick Allen and Cookie Rojas), and he did not report to the Phillies the following season. Flood wrote that letter, and subequently filed a $4.1 million antitrust lawsuit against both MLB and Kuhn a month later.

The case (Flood v. Kuhn) made it to the United States Supreme Court, where the court ruled by a 5-3 vote (with one abstention because of a conflict of interest between Justice Lewis Powell and his ownership of stock in Anheuser Busch, which indirectly made him a part owner of the Cardinals) in favor of MLB on the precedent of a 1922 ruling in a similar case between the Federal Baseball Club and the National League that the NL won.

Flood lost the case, sat out the entire 1970 season and was traded to Washington the following winter. He played 13 games for the Senators that year and hit .200, retiring at the age of 33.

Flood's name isn't brought up enough. Flood should have been thanked when Albert Pujols signed his big contract. Flood should have been thanked when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's record. Flood should receive more consideration for the Hall of Fame, and while the Cardinals shouldn't retire his number, there should be some sort of movement by the club to honor him, albeit posthumously, somewhere in the ballpark.

Look at it this way: Flood sued baseball because he didn't want to go to Philadelphia when he was traded there and he thought that he should be able to choose where he plays after a certain time period. Flood thought he was never going to play again and he sued for what he thought would be his wages for the rest of his career.

Flood sued for $100,000 more than David Eckstein will make… this season. Flood sued for what averages to be about two months' salary for Alex Rodriguez.

Now that Robinson has been honored, it is time for MLB to honor Flood. He was traded in October, so there can't be a "Curt Flood Day" like we had Sunday. His number doesn't have to be retired by every team, but maybe one of these September 9ths some team somewhere can take a minute or two before the game and say, "today is the anniversary of Curt Flood's major league debut."

For some crazy reason, I doubt ESPN will even mention it.

Contact Chris at gift@stlouisgametime.com


The Cardinal Nation Top Stories