Book Review: A Well Paid Slave by Brad Snyder

This biography of Curt Flood is well written and unbelievably meticulously researched. Brad Snyder is a lawyer by trade and it shows in his preparation and delivery. In fact, if there is one bad thing about this book it’s that it is a bit heavy on the court room jargon and procedures.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend it. I’m assuming that everybody who is reading this is aware, to some extent, of Flood’s story. If you are not, shame on you (and here’s a breif synopsis)
Flood became a baseball outcast following a stellar career with the Cardinals that saw the Redbirds win a pair of World Series with Flood in CF. Following the 1969 season, Flood was traded to the lowly Philadelphia Phillies and decided that he didn’t want to play in Philly. Instead he chose to retire and legally challenge the reserve clause in court.
This book lightly sketches Flood’s upbringing and then details his early years in the minors where he faced the discrimination that many other black Americans playing in the minors had been facing. Among some of the interesting points about segregation:
Jackie Robinson integrated some hotels by agreeing not to swim in the pool and not to linger too long in the lobby
– the state senate in Georgia prior to the 1957 baseball season passed a bill (31 to 0) in favor of banning interracial sports to prevent South Atlantic League teams from integrating
Flood’s early career got off to a rocky and slow start in part because Cardinal manager Solly Hemus was either a racist or a poor judge of talent, or both. Hemus felt that Bob Gibson lacked the brains and ability to control his fastball. He was a bit off.
Flood finally got his chance to play everyday and became a star on a successful team. Multiple Gold Gloves and multiple All-Star appearances led to a healthy salary. Flood’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement is well noted during this time- integrating Southern hotels during Spring Training and integrating a previously all white neighborhood.
Then the trade came and Flood decided to challenge the reserve clause. The author does a good job of giving detail on the various challenges to the reserve clause. Commissioner Landis actually freed some minor league players from their teams because their progress toward the majors was being blocked. This group included Tommy Henrich (Baseball-Reference notes that Henrich was granted free agency on 4/14/37) and numerous minor leaguers in the Cardinal and Tiger system.
The author goes into a lot of detail regarding the various trials and appeals that took place in Flood’s case. Flood’s chief counsel was a former Supreme Court Justice, Arthur Goldberg. Despite his stellar qualifications, Goldberg was also running for NY governor while Flood’s suit was still pending. The author notes that Goldberg was ill-prepared to argue the case in front of the Supreme Court when it finally reach there.
While it is true that Flood was a man of great conviction, Snyder does a good job of not giving him the mythologizing brush strokes too often found in portraits of heroic, but profoundly flawed individuals. Instead he paints Flood as he really was – a gifted player, a decent artist who took money to have other individuals paint portraits that Flood would sign his own name on, an alcoholic, a serial womanizer, and at times confused and scared.
One story of great interest comes prior to the lawsuit being officially filed. Flood attended the off-season player’s union meeting to inform them of his intentions. The players were supportive. According to hand written meeting notes (somehow obtained by Snyder), one of the most vocal supporters was Roberto Clemente. Clemente stated that the reserve clause led to him having played his whole career in Pittsburgh. He said after the Pirates drafted him away from the Dodgers, he offered Pirates GM Joe Brown $4,000 for his release so that he could play elsewhere.
This book is a must read for anybody interested in baseball’s labor strife over the last half century. In addition to copious end notes, the book is also fully indexed.

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Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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  • nicolas

    might have been good to mention that you were talking about CURT flood, for those who are unfarmiliar with the sport. also, why the heck would i buy the book now that you just told me everything that was in it? leave something to find out next time.

  • Randy Linville – Pirates MVN

    Point taken on the fact that I neglected to put his first name in there. That has been changed.
    With regard to telling you everything that was in it, I didn’t even come close. I didn’t tell you the outcome of the case (you probably already know) or what he did in the aftermath of the decision. We all know what happened to Roberto Clemente, yet his recent biography was widely read. Just ’cause you know the ending and/or much of the story doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn.

  • http://none The Real Neal

    Why did he bother writing the book when you can tell us all the details in 13 paragraphs.

  • Jeff Kallman

    Randy—You’d be surprised how many people today actually think the Curt Flood case in and of itself struck down the reserve clause, forgetting that Dred Scott in Spikes (the memorable sobriquet admirer George F. Will attaches to Flood to this day) actually lost his individual case at the Supreme Court.
    The importance of Flood was that he’d made the challenge in the first place. And, that he took it as far as he’d taken it without backing down, though he surely had his human enough moments when he must have pondered what it was all worth in psychic cost. He opened a door that was merely knocked upon before, assuming it had been approached at all, and in the structure of baseball as it was at the time it was a huge approach and knock.
    An almost-teammate of Curt Flood probably put it into the best of possible simple phrasings: Ted Simmons (who almost became a reserve clause test case himself, in 1972). Curt Flood stood up for us. Jim Hunter showed us what was there. Andy Messersmith showed us the way. Andy made it happen for us all. It’s what showed a new life.
    And sometimes merely standing up for someone or something proves to have been the critical thing. In terms of a legal win or loss, of nullifying the clause in terms of the way owners had abused it for so long, Curt Flood fought to a full count before swinging and missing for strike three, side retired. But for having mounted the challenge in the first place, Flood “standing up for us” put the game into extra innings. The extra innings in which Charlie Finley blundered his way out of Catfish Hunter (the botched insurance payments, payments called for explicitly in Hunter’s incumbent contract) and Hunter’s way into a free agency fortune. The extra innings in which Al Campanis offended Andy Messersmith into a no-trade clause demand and, denied it, pitching 1975 with no new contract, effectively playing out his incumbent option.
    Curt Flood proved in his way that sometimes you can win by striking out. Sometimes.

  • Randy Linville – Pirates MVN

    the Real Neal – Thanks for the comment. I hardly told revealed everything. Not even close. If you think I did and, therefore, don’t want to read it, then so be it. If you don’t want to read it regardless of whether I revealed too much, that’s your decision. If you love baseball and have even a passing interest in its history, then the book is a worthwhile read.
    Jeff Kallman – well said. The foundation of the arbitration hearings that freed Hunter and then Messersmith and McNally was the Flood case. No doubt about it.

  • nicolas

    i know, randy, that was my point. i (unfortunately? sadly?) don’t know curt’s story, so you probably wound up spoiling a few of the “hmm, thats neat, i didnt know that” moments for me. that’s all i meant.

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