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 its that it is a bit heavy on the court room jargon and procedures.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend it. Im assuming that everybody who is reading this is aware, to some extent, of Floods story. If you are not, shame on you (and heres 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 didnt want to play in Philly. Instead he chose to retire and legally challenge the reserve clause in court.
This book lightly sketches Floods 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
Floods 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. Floods 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 Floods case. Floods chief counsel was a former Supreme Court Justice, Arthur Goldberg. Despite his stellar qualifications, Goldberg was also running for NY governor while Floods 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 players 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 baseballs labor strife over the last half century. In addition to copious end notes, the book is also fully indexed.