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A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports

A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports

4.0 3
by Brad Snyder

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After the 1969 season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded their star center fielder, Curt Flood, to the Philadelphia Phillies, setting off a chain of events that would change professional sports forever. At the time there were no free agents, no no-trade clauses. When a player was traded, he had to report to his new team or retire. Unwilling to leave St. Louis and


After the 1969 season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded their star center fielder, Curt Flood, to the Philadelphia Phillies, setting off a chain of events that would change professional sports forever. At the time there were no free agents, no no-trade clauses. When a player was traded, he had to report to his new team or retire. Unwilling to leave St. Louis and influenced by the civil rights movement, Flood chose to sue Major League Baseball for his freedom. His case reached the Supreme Court, where Flood ultimately lost. But by challenging the system, he created an atmosphere in which, just three years later, free agency became a reality. Flood’s decision cost him his career, but as this dramatic chronicle makes clear, his influence on sports history puts him in a league with Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

Editorial Reviews

It wasn't just that he hated Philadelphia; All-Star center fielder Curt Flood wanted to stay in St. Louis, the town he loved. When the Cardinals traded him to the Phillies in 1969, the independent-minded Flood sued Major League Baseball, seeking to invalidate baseball's reserve clause, which bound players to a team for life. The fleet-footed outfielder pursued the case ultimately to the United States Supreme Court, where he lost by a 5-3 vote. The decision cost Flood his career and his chance to join baseball's Hall of Fame. Ironically, his unsuccessful suit paved the way for the eventual demise of this oppressive rule and the advent of free agency. Brad Synder's A Well-Paid Slave places Flood's fight within the context of the civil rights movement and other contemporary events. A biography of a worthy successor to Jackie Robinson.
David Margolick
The author of Beyond the Shadow of the Senators: The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball, Snyder is a sure-handed and meticulous guide. He knows baseball and writes about the law engagingly and clearly…Generations of ballplayers—Curt Flood's children—have never honored him properly. But with his fine book, Brad Snyder surely has.
—The New York Times
Bruce Schoenfeld
Writing with dispatch and grace, [Snyder] places Flood's challenge to baseball squarely where it belongs, as the final radical act of the 1960s civil rights movement. Self-educated, Flood had read far more than most players, managed to integrate his neighborhood, occasionally visited Mississippi and other flash points, but otherwise was forced by his profession to remain far from the fray. On the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, he was playing center field in San Francisco. "I should be there instead of here," he said.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Snyder, a lawyer and baseball writer, gives an account of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood's failed though influential suit against Major League Baseball, offering both a sturdy revision of Flood's biography and a polemical defense of the pro-player fight of which Flood was a part. Benefiting from a lawyer's pen, the intricacies of the terms "reserve clause" (which bound players "to their teams for life") and "baseball's anti-trust exemption" are quickly and clearly explained, as the world of 1960s Major League Baseball is brought to life. Before "free agency," players had few rights; after the 1969 season Flood fought being traded to Philadelphia, taking his battle to the Supreme Court. While the narrative drags at points, the stories of those central to Flood's case (like Marvin Miller, director of the Player's Association, and Arthur Goldberg, Flood's chief lawyer) are vividly rendered. Most compelling, however, is the portrait of Flood's humble upbringing (in working-class Oakland) and the racism he experienced during his early years on the field ("name-calling, segregated facilities, and second-class citizenship"). This account both serves to explain why Flood was "serious about sacrificing his playing career to sue baseball" and helps reposition Flood as a successor to Jackie Robinson's "lifelong battle against injustice." (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A readable study of baseball's bad old days, when owners kept players on short leashes and superstars made only $100,000. When the Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Phillies in 1969, he didn't want to go; in a time of black civil-rights activism and considerable tension, he likened the swap to a slave auction. There was small support in the baseball world; when Flood filed suit against the Cards ownership, players such as Carl Yastrzemski accused him of trying to ruin the game, while, as attorney and sports enthusiast Snyder notes, the fans "lacked sympathy for . . . athletes perceived to be spoiled and overpaid, rather than subjugated and oppressed." Flood did not help matters when he insisted that a well-paid slave was still a slave, and the trade was not undeserved. Flood spent much of his free time drinking, and his performance in the 1968 World Series was maddening: An error he made in the final game cost the Cards the championship. Still, Flood was a man of some integrity, even if the portraits for which the former art student was richly commissioned were painted by someone else and merely signed by him. He accepted responsibility for the loss of that crucial game, and, insisting that he was acting on behalf of all players, he fought against the hated reserve clause, which in essence gave owners unilateral power to extend a player's contract for a year and cut his pay in the bargain. Flood teamed up with an unconventional attorney, Marvin Miller, who recruited former Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg to argue the case all the way up to the Supreme Court-where they lost. Nonetheless, as Snyder capably shows, the case did open the way to free agency and to today's player-centriclandscape, for better or worse. A welcome addition to baseball history, especially given that Flood's battle is now all but unknown. Agent: Frank R. Scatoni/Venture Literary

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.05(d)
Age Range:
18 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Brad Snyder’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, and the St. Petersburg Times. His previous book, Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, won the Robert Peterson Recognition Award from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and was a finalist for SABR’s Seymour Medal, Spitball Magazine’s Casey Award, and Elysian Fields Quarterly’s Dave Moore Award. He is a graduate of Duke University and Yale Law School.

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A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is just not about baseball but about what life was like fifty years ago. I rank this book up there with the best I have ever read. I couldn't put it down.
MinTwinsNY More than 1 year ago
Rating:   5 of 5 stars (outstanding) Review: In early 1970, Curt Flood, an all-star outfielder, was part of a multi-player trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Having established himself in the city with both business and on the Cardinals, Flood refused to report to the Philles and wanted to remain with the Cardinals.  However, because of baseball’s reserve clause that tied a player to a team until he was traded, released or sold to another club, Flood had to report to Philadelphia if he wanted to play baseball in the 1970 season.  Instead of doing so, he sought legal advice and also financial backing from the players’ union and decided to sue Major League Baseball. By doing this, he knew he had little to gain ( he was giving up a $90,000 annual salary, one of the highest in baseball at that time) and a lot to lose. But he was willing to take that risk in order to stand up to a principle.   The resulting legal case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Flood’s life both in and out of baseball are portrayed in this excellent book by former attorney Brad Snyder.  Ironically, Snyder also quit HIS job in order to research and write this book.  While it is not known if Snyder had the same professional and financial difficulties that Flood faced after quitting baseball, his knowledge of the legal system aids in making this book a good detailed account without legal language or compound sentences making it harder.   The book is at its best when it portrays Flood as a man with principles who just wants to end the practice of binding players to one team unless the owner sees fit to discard him in whatever manner is best for the owner. In addition to the court cases, Snyder recaps much of Flood’s baseball career and how it hardened him so that he was prepared to face the risks of suing Major League Baseball.  In one excellent chapter on Flood’s minor league playing days in the South, the prejudice Flood faces is not unlike that which Jackie Robinson endured when he broke the color barrier.  Robinson was an inspiration for Flood in both baseball and civil rights matters and it is stated so several times in the book. Flood’s life falls to pieces after his baseball playing days are done and the Supreme Court rules against Flood.  His financial problems, drinking problems and relationship issues are documented well, but not too much in order to preserve the main focus of the book – how Flood opened the door toward the eventual demise of the reserve clause in 1975.   Snyder’s legal expertise was also evident in his excellent coverage of the actual hearing in front of the Supreme Court. Snyder is especially critical of Flood’s attorney Arthur Goldberg’s presentation in front of the justices by basically saying that the true reason that the reserve clause should be abolished was never truly expressed by Goldberg.  That part is by far the best of the legal writing in the book. This book should be read by not only fan, but modern-day baseball players in order for them to truly appreciate what Flood did and sacrificed for them.  The multi-million dollar contracts that are common for even regular players today would not have been possible without one man challenging the sport not for selfish reasons, but just because he felt it was the right thing to do.  Did I skim? No, because skipping over any portion of this book would mean the reader would miss key facts or elements crucial to Flood’s case against baseball. Pace of the book:   I found the first third of the book rather slow and hard to concentrate as it mainly concentrates on Flood’s case in the lower court.  However, once it gets to the Supreme Court, the book reads much faster for all topics – the legal matter, Flood’s baseball career and his life.  Do I recommend?   An absolute must-read for any sports fan who wants to understand the background of how players were able to obtain the freedom to go to any team – not just in baseball but for all team sports. 
MikeMcCann More than 1 year ago
This book was a downer; heavily weighed down by legal minutia; perhaps like the subject himself. I was expecting a book revealing the integrity of Curt Flood, but this book portrays him in a mostly negative light. I don't know enough about him to comment on accuracy but halfway through the book I stopped caring about the subject.