02/19/07 10:00 AM ET
Flood's fight overshadowed his talents
But center fielder was considered one of game's best gloves
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
When he decided to challenge baseball's reserve clause, Flood took on the issue because of principle, and principle isn't something a man dismisses like excess baggage.
Balking at a 1969 trade to the Phillies, Flood said: "After 12 years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes."
His were bold words for the time. Yet to think of Flood's career in baseball only in terms of his legal battles in the U.S. Supreme Court is to ignore a career that earned Flood fame on the field. By all accounts, he was one of the best outfielders of his era.
In 15 years in the big leagues, Flood built a career that more than a few people say was Hall of Fame-caliber. The Veterans Committee will now decide whether it agrees with those people, for the committee has Flood's name to consider for Hall of Fame induction.
His numbers alone suggest the committee might find that Flood is indeed worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.
In a career spent mostly with the Cardinals, Flood batted .293, made the All-Star team three times and won a Gold Glove seven times. His work with the glove mirrored that of contemporaries Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays.
Playing during an era when pitching dominated the game, Flood was the defensive linchpin that helped the Cardinals to the World Series in 1964, '67 and '68. Twice they won the Series ('64 and '67), and Flood made contributions in both, though more with his glove than with his bat.
August Busch Jr.
"He also served as the St. Louis team captain from 1965-69 when the Cardinals won two pennants and a World Series," writer Jonathan Leshanski wrote in 2003. "In 1968, the cover of Sports Illustrated dubbed Curt Flood as 'The Best Center Fielder in Baseball.' A high honor indeed when a man named Mays was still patrolling center field for the San Francisco Giants."
As great a center fielder as Flood was, his defense in '68 caused the Cardinals fans an offseason of agony they won't forget. In Game 7 of the World Series that season, Flood misjudged a fly ball to center field that led to the winning run for the Tigers.
It was a tough loss for a franchise whose fans were as accustomed, historically, to winning as Yankees fans were. How could those fans now hate Flood, a star on a team that had plenty of stars?
They didn't hate him.
He played one more season with the Cardinals, whose owner then tried to trade him. In an era where resistance to power proved prevalent in America, Flood found himself at the center of a high-profile legal fight.
He didn't shy from it.
"I'm a child of the '60s, I'm a man of the '60s," Flood once said. "During that period of time this country was coming apart at the seams. We were in Southeast Asia. Good men were dying for America and for the Constitution."
His fight in court cost him the 1970 season, and he came back to baseball in 1971 with the Washington Senators. He wasn't, however, the Curt Flood of the '60s, and he was out of the game after that one season with the Senators.
"The athletic celebrity recedes into twilight," Flood once said. "Time draws him from center stage to the wings to oblivion. It converts him from celebrity to recent celebrity to former celebrity and finally emancipates [or condemns] him to whatever he can make of himself in the world at large."
He put it aptly.
While he never found his way to oblivion, Flood never got his due as a player, either. But a generation of players later benefited from Flood's fight, which touched off a firestorm that destroyed the reserve clause that had bound ballplayers to one team like, as Flood would say, "slaves."
Does Flood's challenge to the status quo overshadow his excellence on the field?
The Veterans Committee will try to answer that question.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.