A FLOOD OF SENATORS' MEMORIES
[October 10th] -- The 1971 Washington Senators were an embarrassingly bad baseball team. After Bob Short traded Joe Coleman, Aurelio Rodriguez and Eddie Brinkman to the Detroit Tigers for Denny McLain and a bunch of guys named Joe, there were more holes in the lineup than players to fill them. Short, who had to be the owner upon which the movie "Major League" was based (I've always believed he made those trades to worsen team, lower the attendance and "get outa town by sundown"), was able to trade Greg Goosen, Jeff Terpko and Gene Martin to the Phillies for the rights to holdout center-fielder Curt Flood. Flood, who was traded to the Phillies the previous off-season along with Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner, and Tim McCarver for Jerry Johnson, Dick (Don't call me Richie!) Allen and Cookie Rojas, never reported to Philadelphia. "I've spent the last eleven years of my life in St. Louis," Flood told the Sporting News, "My home, my car, my friends, they're all there. I shouldn't have to move unless I want to, and I don't want to!" He sued Major League Baseball and it's reserve clause, asserting that he had the right to play anywhere he chose, that a person working at the A&P (an eastern grocery chain) didn't have to get permission to quit and move over to National (a St. Louis grocery chain), and that he should be no less unemcumbered. Of course, he lost the fight in the court house but ultimately won the war on the playing field. The next generation of major leaguers would never be forced to play anywhere that didn't suit them.
Short wasn't making a statement by obtaining Flood, and Flood wasn't any less angry about the way baseball had treated him when he agreed to play in Washington. After sitting out the 1970 season, he simply needed the money (call it the John Riggins factor -- you know -- "Im bored, I'm broke, and I'm back!"). Flood's 1970 salary was $110,000, second highest on the team, behind only Frank Howard's $120,000 contract. There were some who believed that, at 33, Flood wouldn't be able to return to form as one of baseball's premier center fielders. He didn't look particularly good during spring training that spring, but manager Ted Williams said that his time spent at Pompano Beach was more about reacclimating himself to the game of baseball then about producing hits or driving in runs.I was at that last opening day at RFK in 1971 -- the Senators played the Oakland Athletics; Dick Bosman vs. Vida Blue. He went 1-3, a bunt single in the first inning. Sadly, it was downhill from there. Playing in only 13 games, Flood batted .200, garnering only 7 hits -- all singles. On the night that Flood left the team, Ron Menchine, one of the team's radio announcers, read Flood's statement on the radio, in essence saying that while he tried as hard as he could, the year layoff hurt him more than he anticipated, and he was going to retire rather than play at such a low level.
Flood's short stint with the Senators in 1971 is but a footnote in team history, but his tireless work in bringing down the reserve clause makes him one of baseball's most important figures. His work paid off when Andy Messerschmidt and Dave McNally became baseball's first free agents four years later, the result of an arbitrator's decision that ruled the reserve clause illegal.
I was saddened when Flood left the team in 1971. I firmly believed that he had it within him to not only come back, but to come back with a vengeance. I still think he could have. But it's very hard to go back into the system that you sued, that you said was wrong, and that you likened to slavery. He likely felt hypocritical, and so he left with no regrets.
Flood died at the young age of 59 in 1997, taken from us by throat cancer. At least he had the chance to see first hand what his efforts brought to the next generation of major league baseball players.
Screech's Best Friend From Nats 320 did some research and left a comment with a lot of great information. Take this as the difinitive word on Senor Flood:
I was so curious about all the Curt Flood Comments, I walked over to the bookstore to brief through the Curt Flood Book called "A Well Paid Slave" by Brad Snyder.
I turned to the Senators portion of the book. Snyder writes Flood was in such a bad mental shape, that he refused to room with anyone on the road in the few weeks he was with the team. Always holed up in his room, never coming out for anything but games. Dowing a pint or so of Vodka each night.
During those first weeks with the Nats, he lost another juducial ruling. Ted Williams did not want him on the team-in the first place. Williams noticing in Pompano Beach during Spring Training that Curt had lost his skills, to a great degree. And, even when he fled off to Barcelona in late April, a handful of players were not surprised. They could all tell Flood was just not into the game. He did tell Frank Howard, in the runway, between the Dugout and the Locker Room at RFK--"I've just lost it" meaning his total mental capacity. Thought this was all interesting and wanted to share it with everyone.
I remember watching the '68 World Series and being really impressed by the Cardinals' outfield of Lou Brock -- Curt Flood and Roger Maris. Wasn't it Flood who misplayed a catchable deep ball that allowed the Tigers to win one of the late games, bringing Detroit all the way back from a 3-1 defiecit to win the whole thing?
At the link:
I believe that his anger towards baseball made it impossible for him to make it back to his star status level -- it was his mind, not his body, that kept him from it.
Thanks for your views.
And I thought I was being original!
He was a good player, like thousands upon thousands of overs.
OTOH, Flood's court case really had nothing to do with the players' eventually getting the right to free agency. He sued on anti-trust grounds and free agency was based on the right of renewal clause in the contract.
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