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Dredd Scott in Spikes: Curt Flood

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 1, 2023 3:03 am

Dredd Scott in Spikes: Curt Flood

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 1, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, discrimination in all the basics of life could not deter Curt Flood from excellence in professional baseball - and ultimately bringing justice to the business of sports.

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See T-Mobile dot com. And we return to our American stories up next. An unusual story about baseball and a baseball player you likely haven't heard of named Curt Flood. He was a three time All-Star back in the 70s, seven time Golden Glove winner. But perhaps his most important contribution to professional baseball had to do with sports contracts, how athletes are paid and how Major League Baseball is run. Here to tell the story is author and commentator and one of the best baseball writers of all time. George Will with the story.

Take it away, George. Curt Flood was for many, many seasons, a premier outfielder most of the years with the St. Louis Cardinals. He grew up in Oakland in the Bay Area, we should say, really, with Frank Robinson and Ricky Henderson and Joe DiMaggio and all kinds of great baseball players came out of the rich baseball culture of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Area. And in the 50s, he became a minor league player largely in the south, which is where most minor league teams were because most major league teams were in the north. And he experienced the segregated south.

This was the south before the public accommodation section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. He would travel with his teammates on the team bus. They would go in the front door of the restaurant to get food. He would be handed food out the back door.

He would relieve himself on the side of the road because he couldn't use the restrooms. The Cardinals that he joined late in his, what turned out to be late in his career with the Cardinals, they decided to trade him to Philadelphia. And he said, no, actually, I don't want to go to Philadelphia and I'm going to challenge the reserve clause, which had been integral to baseball since time immemorial. All it said was that once you signed with the team, you were that team's property until they decided to trade you or release you and there was no third option.

Kirk Flood said, there's something wrong with this because it denies to a category of Americans, I am a part, what should be the basic American right to negotiate the terms of employment with the employer of your choice. It's rather nice that he played in St. Louis, not far from the courthouse dome, you can see it today right over the outfield fence from the new Busch stadium where the original Dred Scott case was settled. Dred Scott, of course, was the slave who had lived for a while in a free state and said that by virtue of having lived in a free state, he should be declared free.

The Supreme Court in 1857 tried to resolve America's racial dilemma and again made an awful hash of it, brought on the Civil War and catalyzed the career of Abraham Lincoln by saying, no African American has or ever shall have any rights that a white person is obligated to respect. Which is why when I wrote about Kirk Flood years ago, I referred to him as Dred Scott in Spikes, he said, I won't go to Philadelphia, interrupted a lucrative career at the peak of his prowess. He was such a good center fielder, which means he played the biggest part of the outfield, which means as you grow old, your capacity declines, so he was taking a risk with the perishable asset of baseball talent. Anyway, he challenged the reserve clause, took it all the way to the Supreme Court, where he lost, in part because, in large part because Oliver Wendell Holmes, and I think it was 1924, had a singularly bad day. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a suit arising from a conflict between the major leagues and the federal league, which had grown up to challenge the major leagues, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, well, baseball is not a business in interstate commerce, which was preposterous.

The great sportswriter Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times once said, if baseball is not a business, then Microsoft or General Motors is a sport. Anyway, he lost, and a good bit of his career perished with his legal case. He lost in 1970. In 1976, there was a challenge mounted to the reserve clause. It was submitted to an arbiter. The arbiter says, yeah, the reserve clause is illegal, and baseball changed incidentally.

As soon as they struck down the reserve clause, the Cassandras came out of the woodwork, and there were loud lamentations and rending of garments across the land. As the baseball owners, who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, proved themselves wrong again. They said, this will mean that all the good players will go to the rich teams, and it will be the end of competitive balance.

They were 180 degrees wrong. Competitive balance immediately began to improve for lots of reasons. What Kurt Flood did was give players leverage. If you have no leverage, you have no power to compel owners to share a larger portion of the value that the players create. No one that I know of has ever bought a ticket to a ballpark to see an owner.

They go to see the players. Now, I don't want to sound too Marxist here about the labor theory of value, but even allowing for the fact that the entrepreneurship and the scouting and all the rest of the marketing that goes into the management side of baseball does create value, still, most of the value is created by the players in collaboration with the other apparatus of Major League Baseball. Before, what the Dred Scott-Kurt Flood decision did was give the Major League Baseball players leverage just at a time, no one could have seen this, when something else was going to happen that was going to make an enormous difference to salaries, and that is the explosive growth of local broadcast revenues. The era of baseball prosperity was just around the corner with cable television, and superstations such as TBS, Ted Turner broadcasting his Braves, the WGN broadcasting the Cubs, which WGN for a while owned through the Tribune Company.

So, through serendipity, the explosive growth of money pouring into baseball because of new television audiences, baseball became invaluable programming. You know, it's sometimes said that Americans don't do political philosophy because we've never created the equivalent of Locke's Second Treatise on Government or Hobbes' Leviathan. Actually, Americans do political philosophy all the time, they just do it in court cases, particularly in Supreme Court cases. You want to look at American political philosophy, look at a wall covered with Supreme Court reports, and just as apolitical and governmental philosophy was contained in the Dred Scott decision, so was one contained in the Curt Flood outcome, not in Holmes' decision, but in the outcome, which was that we are a market society, we believe in the freedom for capitalist acts between consenting adults, to use a phrase coined by the late, great Robert Nozick, Harvard political philosopher. And so, the national pastime was suddenly, and to its great discomfort, but its ultimate prosperity was made congruent with the national premise, which is that people should be free to contract with one another in cooperative ventures, even if it's called Major League Baseball. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery, and a special thanks to George Will again, he's a political commentator, but we don't do politics here on this show, but he is the author of Men at Work, the Craft of Baseball, it may be one of the best sports books you've ever read, the story of free agency, the story of litigation, and our great modern legal system, and so much more, the story of Dred Scott and Spikes, Curt Flood, here on Our American Stories. At Ford, we pride ourselves on building strong, capable vehicles, but we're only as strong as the people who drive them, people like you, who don't just see an F-150, but see what they can build with it, because Built Ford Proud, it's a pact between us, our drivers, and what we can do together. Built Ford Proud.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-01 04:42:32 / 2023-12-01 04:47:18 / 5

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