Tag Archive | "Color Barrier"

Jason Collins Is Not Jackie Robinson

The last few days have seen something dramatic in the world of sports: for the first time, an active player on a professional team in either the NBA, MLB, NFL or NHL has announced publicly that he is homosexual.  This ground-breaking event has led many to compare the player, Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards, with baseball’s Jackie Robinson.  That compassion, in my opinion, is absurd.

JasonCollins

Now I am not launching into any political or religious debates in this space.  Jason Collins is gay.  We are not here to discuss his legal right to marry someone or whether or not he should be supported by some church body.  That is not the issue at hand here and if you wish to discuss those issues, I invite you to take to social media and discuss with your social circles in whatever means you feel necessary.

The discussion here revolves around sports and the breaking down of barriers.  What Collins has done is monumental and over the course of the next NBA season or two, we will discover what impact it truly has on his teammates, opponents, and the league as a whole.  He is the first person to openly proclaim a sexual preference towards the same sex in this type of setting and that decision, most likely, will influence others to do the same.  The day will dawn soon enough that players in the other major sports will follow Collins lead and announce that they too are gay.

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.  He found his way on to a Major League Baseball team in an era where players openly stated that they would not play with a man of color.  Owners had banned the thought of a black man on a roster.  He was not a player on a team that suddenly decided that the world should know something about him that they did not.  He was not a player that was concerned with how he would be received.

Therein lies the largest difference in the situation.  The world will tune in to see how Collins is received and analysts will break down every incident to see if it is fueled by some degree of hate.  There was very little doubt when it came to Robinson.  The world was at a turning point and he was at the center of it.  Robinson would deal with hate and ridicule at every turn.

The idea that Jason Collins is Jackie Robinson is a stretch based on the idea that all civil rights issues, of which the rights of gay people are classified, are the same.

Jason Collins is free to eat anywhere he wants.  There are no hotels that restrict a gay person from renting a room.  I have yet to see a sign in a window proclaiming “Straight Only”.  He will not have to use a different entrance to an establishment or a different bathroom or have to sit in designated seating because he is gay.  He did not enter a league that previously had told people like him that they could not be here.

The world is a much different place in many ways and very similar in others.  Hate crimes run rampant and extremists exist in all areas of the world.  Collins will face adversity and challenges that are very different from what Robinson was challenged by.  They will be on a different level and, more than likely, be far less extreme.

Collins, I will admit courageously, stepped forward to announce that he was different.  He may have inspired others to do the same or helped others realize that it is okay.  It is a moment in sports that will leave his name etched into history.

But there is only one Jackie Robinson.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
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Negro League Widow Passes Away

HiltonSmithLouise Smith, widow of Hilton Smith, has passed away at the age of 98 years old.

Hilton Smith is a hall of fame pitcher famous for his time in Negro League Baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs.  During his playing career, according to the Hall Of Fame, he was credited with 20 wins in each of his 12 seasons with the Monarchs.

Possibly best known for his relief appearances behind the great Satchel Paige, Smith pitched in six consecutive “East-West All Star Games” from 1937-1942.  He was considered by many to be the best pitcher in black baseball but was largely overlooked due to his quiet demeanor, a stark contrast to that of Paige’s.

Hilton hurled a no-hitter in 1937 and according to many sources did not lose a single competition in 1938.  During the winter of 1946, he pitched the Vargas team in the Venezuelan league to the championship.  The following March, he would pitch for the Vargas team in an exhibition game in Venezuela against the New York Yankees.  He would allow one hit over five innings and be credited with the win in a 4-3 ballgame.

Smith would decline an offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers as baseball’s color barrier came crashing down, eventually retiring in 1948.  He would go on to teach, coach, and eventually become a scout for the Chicago Cubs.  He passed away in 1983 and was inducted into Cooperstown in 2001 by the Veteran’s Committee.

Louise Humphrey would marry Hilton Smith in 1934.  The couple would have two children during their marriage.  During an interview for the 2005 Oral History film, Louise would recount how she turned down Hilton’s marriage proposal at first because she did not want to marry a ballplayer.  Ultimately, she identified that he was a professional man and was rewarded with being able to see areas of the world she never thought possible.

From the “Did You Know” section of his Baseball Hall Of Fame Bio:

Hilton Smith advised Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson to sign Jackie Robinson to a contract with the powerhouse Negro American League club?

According the the Negro League Baseball Museum, Louise visited the museum for “one last tour” earlier this week.

You can visit the Negro League Baseball Museum’s website by clicking this link.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
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Black History Month: Bob Trice

Imagine yourself back in 1953 in Philadelphia. You are on the mound for your major league debut, and you walk out to a thunderous boo. You begin your warm ups, and the booing continues. The game wears on, and nothing changes. You look at the opposing pitcher, Don Larsen of the St. Louis Browns, and he is dealing out there, making your teammates work for every run. The game finishes, and the booing just will not wear down. You walk out of Connie Mack Stadium, and the people just will not stop annoying you with booing and threatening words. However, you continue on your path to the hotel room and realize that you set the standard for integration for the Athletics organization. This is the day that Bob Trice made history, on September 13, 1953.

Bob Trice broke the color barrier for the Philadelphia Athletics at Connie Mack Stadium, and set the precedent for future Athletics teams, which would later move to Kansas City. His impact on the organization was more than just a sideshow attraction. He made it possible for not only African-American players like Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson, but for Latino players like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Sanchez, and Salvador Perez on the current 40-man roster. His numbers were not outstanding, and his minor league success did not carry over into the Major Leagues. He was a combined 9-9 with an ERA around 6.70 in his three seasons in Philadelphia and Kansas City. He also had 28 strikeouts and 60 walks in 152 innings pitched.

Trice will never be remembered in the same way as the greats, like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, or Roberto Clemente for running into a lot of prejudice and playing exceptionally well, but the people of Philadelphia will always remember the day he stepped on the mound and showed his skills against Don Larson. The stadium at the intersection of Lehigh Avenue and North 21st Street was filled to see how Trice would perform for a struggling A’s team, and even though he did not earn the victory, he set the bar relatively high with his first start. He threw eight innings, letting up five earned runs, no walks, and two strikeouts.

As we watch Royals baseball this spring, we will see a newly transformed team, with all sorts of different players from different parts of the world. From Mike Moustakos to Jarrod Dyson, Bruce Chen to Jonathan Sanchez, we see many different colors and ethnicities, and we should be thankful to the man that helped them be a part of the team. Thank you Bob Trice, for helping to make Baseball the game it is today.

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Buck O’Neil, Outstanding!

“This is outstanding” were the first words of Buck O’Neil on July 29, 2006 during his address at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for 17 other Negro League players and officials. It was truly an honor for him to be able to give the speech and represent his brothers and sisters being inducted on that day. We all know it should have been 18 people receiving that recognition, and while the 18th was still alive, to have that moment. Buck didn’t need the moment though, he had already accepted a lot of “shoulda-been’s” and “coulda-been’s” and it never stopped him from living. Not many of us can even imagine what that time was like for them in those days of civil unrest. Buck would occasionally talk about others players emotional pain but never his own. I am sure he had some, but he chose to look at the bright side and on a bad day, as it is during the baseball season, there is always tomorrow.

I have had on my shelf, a book I picked up at a rummage sale titled “THE Official ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BASEBALL, 1963 Edition” by Hy Turkin and S. C. Thompson. It’s a shame that I even had to wonder if the Negro League was even mentioned but I opened it up and hunted. Out of the 625 page book, I found one page that mentioned the Negro Leagues and some of it’s players, one page! Sure we are still learning to overcome that horrible time in our history, but it is amazing how that in 1963, 16 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier we still didn’t get it. As a timeline reference, one year before this book was published, Buck O’Neil was named the first black in the major leagues to coach, for the Chicago Cubs. In the chapter on history, they do reference the Cubs in 1962 losing 100 games for the first time in their history, but do not mention the history they made by hiring Buck.

He had a way about him, that would allow people to forget about their troubles and make the person he was speaking with, the center of his attention. I saw him on several occasions at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and at Kauffman Stadium mingling with people and he was always smiling. My most memorable encounter with him was at a Royals game where he taught me a humbling lesson. One that I will never forget and one that I remember like it was just yesterday.

It happened at the ballpark in Kansas City and as he did until the last years of his life, Buck would sit in an isle seat just a few rows directly behind home plate at Kauffman Stadium. Always a beacon of smiles and happiness, he drew fans of all ages to him. A stadium usher would watch the isle above him and while play was under way, and only let people with seats in that section go down . Then in between innings they would let fans down the isle one at a time to speak to him or to get an autograph. Finally the 3rd out and she nodded her head at me. It was time for me to follow the steps down with my KC Monarchs cap in hand like I was a child taking my first hand written Christmas list to see Santa Claus. I lowered myself beside him and without a word as I must have assumed that speech was not necessary, silently I handed my cap to him. Buck looked up at me with a stern voice and said “Now you ASK me for that autograph young man”. Stern at the beginning and for a brief moment I was frightened. But in the same moment, something magical happened because before he finished that same sentence, and in a way that only Buck can do, he was smiling ear to ear.

I then nervously asked him “may I please have your autograph sir?” And still smiling he said “You sure can!” He signed his name and that Monarchs cap it is still a treasure of mine along with that memory. That evening I received the autograph souvenir and was taught a lesson on how to first give respect, then earn it for yourself. I was taught that in a manner that not many people are able to teach. This was a decent man, full of life and full of love for baseball and people most of all. But I imagine baseball fans held a special place in his heart like he holds in mine.

In the induction ceremony speech in 2006 he said, “I can’t hate a human being because my God never made anything ugly, but you can be ugly if you wanna boy, but God didn’t make you that way.” Then he asked the people there to hold hands and had them sing after him, “The greatest thing in all of my life, is loving you.” and closed with “Now I could talk another 10 minutes, but I’ve got to go to the bathroom” and like he always did he walked away with everyone smiling. God certainly did good work with Buck O’Neil.

Buck O’Neil played an instrumental role in getting others into the Baseball Hall of Fame and then what seemed like an insult to us, could not gather 9 out of the 12 votes required for his own induction. He was honored to simply have been asked to give the speech for his friends on their induction day at Cooperstown. How many of us could find that kind of grace and pride? While it did not affect him visibly, I would imagine he was pretty good about choosing the important things to worry about like if that pretty young lady over there had gotten her hug and smile yet.

We could all learn many lessons from Buck O’Neil. Like how to live a happy life, full of smiles, and perhaps, the most important lesson, is that life is… Outstanding!

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The Cardinals In Time: Slaughter’s Mad Dash And Breaking The Color Barrier

During the offseason we have been taking a look at the past, giving readers a timeline of St. Louis baseball throughout history. Last time we learned about how the Cardinals played through World War II and Stan Musial’s arrival in St. Louis. In 1944, the Cardinals and Browns squared off in the World Series, and the redbirds won out. Could they keep it going?

While the Cardinals had not been hurt as much by the draft as other teams, the biggest piece of their squad was finally pulled right at the end. Stan Musial was pulled into the service in January of 1945 and sent to Pearl Harbor, where he played baseball every day and worked on ship repairs. He realized that he was fortunate, as many players that went into the service were unable to pick up a ball for months at a time. Max Lanier felt that, as missing just three weeks and then being asked to pitch in a pick-up game on base at Fort Bragg caused him to hurt his elbow.

Walker and Mort Cooper

One player who went undrafted was big pitcher Mort Cooper, who held out at the start of the 1945 season. Owner Sam Breadon tired of his act and eventually just shipped him off to the Boston Braves for fellow pitcher Red Barrett and cash. Barrett and a babyfaced kid named Albert (Red) Schoendienst were the two main additions to the team. Poor Red was so young and green looking that he was unable to get into the visiting clubhouses at a few National League parks because he did not look old enough to be on the team!

Due to the war taking away so many of the stars, the Cardinals were unable to reclaim their place atop the National League. Even team leader Marty Marion thought that the team should have won it all, but just never got in a groove. With six games left in the season the team trailed by just one and a half, but in the end their 95-59 record fell three games short of the pennant winning Chicago Cubs.

The end of the war in 1945 meant that there was a flood of ballplayers (almost 350) that had returned for the start of the 1946 season. Sam Breadon had a fire sale to get rid of all his excess players, but did not expect to also be hiring at the same time. The new ownership trio for the Boston Braves was throwing money everywhere, and set up a nice package for a new manager. They wanted Billy Southworth, and when Breadon refused to match the offer, his manager of five plus years walked out the door. Southworth left with quite possibly the best winning percentage ever for a Cardinal manager, winning over 95 games every season he was there and over 100 in three of them. To replace him, the Cardinals called on Eddie Dyer to take over. Dyer had done some work with the team’s Double A franchise, and came up to see if he could continue Southworth’s work.

Max Lanier

One of the players lost in the fire sale was Walker Cooper, the team’s stellar catcher. Cooper was a mainstay of the lineup, and his replacements were adequate, but not compared to what they had before. More losses were sustained to an upstart Mexican league that pulled three more stars away, including pitcher Max Lanier. The Mexican league promised outlandish salaries and glamorous living, neither of which actually happened. All the players that jumped ship from the majors ended up suspended from baseball for several years and were not allowed to receive their pensions upon retirement.

While losing Lanier hurt, it did not keep the team from playing tough in 1946. They were a divided group, one part of the team playing cards as lively as they played baseball, drinking and going out at every opportunity, and the other section labeled “the nice boys” that did as they were told, played ball and went home at the end of the day. Writers labeled the clubhouse divided and decided that they could never come together on the field. Marty Marion was one of the leaders in the clubhouse, and he knew better.

They might be two distinct groups, but they all respected each other, and they all had the same will to win, and win they did. Howie Pollet, the good Catholic boy with the pitches that just glided right by hitters, won 21 games and Harry “the Cat” Brecheen and Murry Dickson both won 15 to lead the pitching staff. On defense, nothing got by the infield of Musial, Schoendienst, Marion and Whitey Kurowski, and at the plate not many pitches got by them either!

It was June when the Cardinals went on a fifteen game road trip. While playing three in Brooklyn, Musial went on an absolute tear, going 8 for 12 and causing Dodger fans to chant “Here comes the man” whenever he would step to the plate. From there the name “Stan the Man” was born, and Musial showed the rest of the league who was the best, winning the MVP with a .365/.434/.587 batting line and slapping out 228 hits, including 50 doubles and 20 triples. The war certainly did not slow down Musial, and his leadership led the Cardinals back to the NL pennant and World Series.

It was a close race, and it certainly did not have to be. The Cardinals actually tied with the Dodgers and had to play a three game playoff before advancing to the World Series. Everyone knew it was Sam Breadon’s fault for selling off or letting go so many players. It could have been a runaway pennant for the Cardinals, but instead it was a dogfight to the end. When everyone stood up and raked Breadon over the coals at an end of the season banquet, only one person stood up and defended him. The young man’s name was Harry Caray, a young announcer just getting into the business. Breadon was so thankful for Caray’s testimony that the next spring he brought on Harry’s team to be the new “Voice of the Cardinals” for radio broadcasts, a position he held for over 40 years.

Entering the ’46 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the Cardinals were up against the mighty bats of Ted Williams and company. The two teams went blow for blow for six games, trading wins and leading to a game seven for the ages. The game was tied 3-3 into the eighth inning, when Enos Slaughter led off with a little single up the middle. Two quick outs later Slaughter was still dancing around first when Harry Walker blooped a single into left-center. It was a hit-and-run, and Slaughter was off before the crack of the bat, racing around second and third, blowing past the third base coach’s stop sign, and sliding home. It was an unremarkable play at the time, but it proved to be the winning run of the series, and “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” came to be the defining moment of the outfielder’s distinguished nineteen year Hall of Fame career.

Yes, the Cardinals were back on top, but it would be the last time the team would even sniff a World Series for eighteen long years. 1947 brought about a big change for baseball when the Cardinals’ old friend in Branch Rickey decided to bring up Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, breaking the color barrier and changing the face of baseball forever. That, along with Rickey’s many other maneuvers and signings since arriving in Brooklyn pushed the Dodgers to the top of the pile, and the Cardinals found themselves looking up from second.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

Breaking the color line had a huge impact on the Cardinals, as they eventually became branded as the most racist team in baseball. Sam Breadon was concerned that fans in St. Louis would be unwilling to come out to the games if a black man was playing on the field. Reporters in New York and elsewhere misconstrued the statement to the point where most of the country was convinced that the Cardinals were going to boycott games against the Dodgers, when in fact that story broke after the two teams had just finished a three game set in Brooklyn!

Later in the season, when the Dodgers were in St. Louis, not only did the Cardinals not strike, but Robinson himself felt comfortable enough with being there that he walked through the Cardinals clubhouse to get to the field rather than walking with his cleats through the underbelly of the stadium. Manager Eddie Dyer even greeted him as he made it to the dugout. Sounds like a team on the edge to me. Things never were quieted. Enos Slaughter spiked Robinson on a hard slide into second base, and while Slaughter himself barely remembers it happening, it so enraged the baseball world that it kept Slaughter out of the HoF for many years and Hank Aaron still recalled the incident in his 1992 autobiography. Musial was accused of getting in a fight with Slaughter about it, to the point where Slaughter beat Musial up and sent him to the hospital. In reality? Musial had appendicitis and had to fly back to St. Louis to have his appendix taken out before it burst on him. There wasn’t a scratch on his body except for the cut for the surgery!

The unfortunate thing is that even Ford Frick said in his autobiography that the Cardinals accepted Robinson better than most teams, yet to this day people are still convinced that they were the worst team in baseball around the time. Breadon’s fears were unfounded, as the Cardinals had a higher attendance that year than in any year previous to that. Lost in the shuffle was the absolute cat fight that was occurring on the field and in the standings. The two teams went back and forth all year long. The Cardinals might have finished five games back of the Dodgers, but it was not for lack of trying.

Sam Breadon was tired and sick. Cancer had left him weak, and rather than leave everything to his wife of a then shaky marriage, Breadon wanted to choose the new owners of the Cardinals. He coerced Fred Saigh to buy the team, and the six years Saigh owned the teams were the best years of his life. Unfortunately the Cardinals were still behind the times, and the teams that had been bringing in stars from the Negro Leagues were rising to power. The Dodgers were first obviously, bringing in Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe after Robinson, but right behind them were the mighty Giants, bringing in Willie Mayes, Henry Tomphson, and Monte Irvin.

In 1948, the Cardinals again found themselves just shy of the top of the pile, finishing in second to the Boston Braves. The real story here is Stan Musial, who was at the peak of his career, and finished just one home run shy of winning the Triple Crown! Even more astounding is the whole story of the “lost” home run that he hit, that would have put him over the top. Derrick Goold over at the Post-Dispatch has been on a search for it for a couple of years now, so I will let him explain the story here. Needless to say, Musial was definitely the brightest point of the 1948 team.

1949 was a different story. The Cardinals were again fighting neck and neck with the Dodgers, from day 1 to day 154. The reemergence of Max Lanier was a push the team needed, and Howie Pollet again won 20 games. Slaughter and Musial went toe to toe all season long battling for the team batting title, and the two finished second (Musial) and third (Slaughter) in the MVP race that year. The Cardinals were up one and a half games with five left to play in the regular season, when Slaughter whipped a ball into Red Schoendiesnst at second base that took a bad hop and broke the second baseman’s thumb, effectively ending his season. That loss gave the team whiplash, and before they knew it they needed a win and a Dodger loss to end the season tied. The Cardinals did their share, but the Dodgers won out and ended one game up on the disappointed Cardinals.

The team got used to disappointment though. It was about to get even more ugly for the Cardinals…

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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Curt Flood – A Forgotten Star

The Early Years

In the 1950′s, the Cincinnati Redlegs drafted three of the most exciting outfielders of their era, and they all came from the same high school. The first was Frank Robinson, in 1953. He would break into the majors in 1956 and win the Rookie of the Year in the first of his 21 outstanding seasons. That same year, Reds scouts would return to the high school where they recruited Robinson and find two more prospects: Vada Pinson and Curt Flood. Pinson would become a major league force of his own, but would play behind Robinson for most of his career. It’s a shame that more people don’t know the name Vada Pinson. Of the three, Curt Flood was the diamond in the rough.

With Robinson firmly established as the Reds every day left fielder, it was just a matter of time before he would be joined by Flood or Pinson. Flood was the better defender but Pinson hit for average and power and would eventually be the one to play with alongside Robinson. In 1957, the color barrier had been broken, but was not totally eliminated from the game. It has been suggested that the Reds didn’t want to have an all-African-American starting outfield, so it was Flood that had to go. I would like to believe this was not true, but looking at the deal that the Cardinals made in December 1957 suggests otherwise. Cincinnati’s bad judgement soon became the Cardinals gain.

Bing’s Devine Plan

While this drama was being played out in Cincinnati, Cardinals General Manager Bing Devine had been challenged by new owner, August Busch, Jr. to build a dynasty in the gateway city. Devine started looking around for some young players to be the core of this new organization, and Flood became the first of them. Flood was not the first African-American to play for the Cardinals, but he would be the first regular player when he took over for a struggling Bobby Smith two weeks into the 1958 season. The 20 year old rookie would finish the year with a modest .261 batting average. He would also display a bit of power that he would sacrifice later for a higher batting average. He also demonstrated a good eye at the plate with a relatively low strikeout rate – one that he would improve throughout his career. He didn’t know it at the time, but that would become significant in a few years when he found himself hitting behind Lou Brock.

Flood would struggle a little over the next two seasons as pitchers started finding holes in his swing. In 1959, he would platoon in the outfield while new manager Solly Hemus experimented with playing Stan Musial at first base. Even though he struggled at the plate, base runners soon took notice of Flood’s arm. They tested him repeatedly during the season, 18 times quite unsuccessfully. They would not challenge him again until an injury in 1967 affected his throwing, but even then the wily veteran still took down a number of would-be base runners.

As Flood was developing his talent in the St. Louis outfield, Bing Devine continued to find additional pieces for a future championship team. In 1959, Flood would be joined by Bill White, a young catcher named Tim McCarver and a wild hard throwing right hander named Bob Gibson. In 1960 the Cardinals would add Curt Simmons, Julian Javier and Ray Sadecki. The pieces were almost in place.

Flood’s breakout year would be 1961. After struggling at the plate early in the year, a successful run of late inning defensive substitutions gave Flood a chance to show off his bat to new manager, Johnny Keane. One of the first things that Keane did after taking over in mid-summer was to put Flood back as the every day center fielder and he did not disappoint. Flood raised his batting average to .322 with an on-base percentage nearing the magical .400 level. He also managed to cut his strikeout rate in half. All questions about who would be the future center fielder for the Cardinals had been answered.

Flood’s offensive production continued to improve in 1962. He narrowly missed hitting .300, finishing with a .296 average. He drove in an astonishing 70 runs from the top of the batting order. The one-two punch of Flood and Javier was starting to get noticed around the league. What they left on the bases was soon being driven in by Ken Boyer and Bill White. With the pitching rotation coming together nicely, backed by an All-Star infield and Flood directing the outfield, Busch’s dream of a championship team was almost a reality.

1963 would be a very good year for Flood. He would collect over 200 hits, tying Bill White for the team lead. His defensive abilities would finally be recognized when the post-season awards were given out. Flood would earn the first of his seven consecutive Gold Glove awards. Only 13 outfielders would collect more in the history of the award. While Flood was dazzling fans with his glove, two more pieces to the Devine puzzle were put in place: shortstop Dick Groat and future right fielder Mike Shannon.

Flood would follow up his 200 hit 1963 season by leading the league with 211 hits in 1964. Perhaps the most amazing thing about his ’64 season was his consistency. By mid-May, he had his batting average up to .300 and it would not fluctuate much for the rest of the year. His .400 on-base percentage in the last month of the season ahead of a red hot Lou Brock was a big part of the Cardinals success in overtaking the Philadelphia Phillies in one of the most exciting pennant races in the history of the National League. Flood would also receive the first of his three All Star Game invitations. In the era of Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Billy Williams, Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson, outfield invitations become something of a rare thing, and Flood would receive just three in his career.

Under new manager, Red Schoendienst, several Cardinals struggled in 1965 and 1966 and the team fell from World Champions to middle of the pack finishes in both seasons. In one of his best managerial decisions, Schoendienst would swap Brock and Flood at the top of the order, preferring Brock’s power and aggressive base running ahead of Flood’s consistent bat. This combination would terrorize pitchers for the remainder of the decade, but some retooling of the team would need to happen before the Cardinals would return to post-season. While all of this was going on, Flood remained steady as a rock, nearly matching his 1964 performance the next season as well as the first half of 1966.

Much more important was something that happened on September 2, 1965. In the seventh inning of a game in Chicago, Curt Flood would commit an error on a ball hit by Harvey Kuenn (who would later manage the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series). Flood would not commit another error until the Cardinals played the Cubs again – on June 4, 1967. Almost a year and a half later. That’s a total of 226 games (a National League record) and 586 chances (a Major League Record). Yes, Curt Flood was that good. With all due respect to Jim Edmonds (who won one more Gold Glove) and Willie McGee, nobody played center field for the Cardinals better than Curt Flood.

While Flood was flashing the leather, he also turned in his best offensive season in 1967. An injury would take him out of the lineup for three weeks in July, but when he returned, his .373 finish to the season jump-started an offensive that was struggling. He and teammate Orlando Cepeda would battle Roberto Clemente of the Pirates for the batting title all season long, with Clemente hanging on to win. Flood would finish fifth with a .335 average and Cepeda sixth at .325. Even in 1968, when batting averages were dropping all over the league, Flood was the only Cardinal to keep his above .300, finishing with a .301 average.

Not only was Curt Flood a defensive star, he had become a dependable hitter. He is characterized as a singles hitter with little pop, but that does him a great disservice. Yes, he hit mostly singles, but he also hit near .300 for most of the decade, something no other Cardinals player did.

The Miscue

Cardinals fans will remember Flood for all of his defensive marvels, especially the record error-less streak. Casual fans may remember him slightly differently, and that’s unfortunate. In Game 7 of the 1968 World Series, Flood would be involved in a play that would determine the outcome of the game, and the series.

With the series tied at three games a piece, Bob Gibson would face Mickey Lolich of the Tigers in the decisive game. Both pitchers brought their A game and it would remain scoreless until the top of the seventh inning. After retiring 20 of the first 21 batters he faced, Gibson gives up consecutive singles to Norm Cash and Willie Horton. Jim Northrup follows that with a hard hit ball to center field that we thought would end the inning. Unfortunately, Curt Flood turned the wrong way on the line drive and was unable to catch up to it after the miscue. The ball would roll all the way to the wall, scoring both Horton and Cash. Northrup would be credited with a triple on the play, thanks to a friendly official scorer. Rattled, Gibs0n gives up a double to Bill Freehan, scoring Northrup and giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead. That was all that Lolich needed as he cruised to a complete game victory, making the Tigers the new World Champions of baseball.

For those that only read the headlines, this is what they will remember from the playing career of Curt Flood. Not the consecutive errorless streak, not the year after year of patiently hitting .300 behind Lou Brock – one miscue that may have cost the Cardinals their third World Series title in the decade.

Challenging the Reserve Clause

Some historical analysis of the end of Flood’s career will point to the miscue in the 1968 World Series as the event that lead to his being traded after the 1969 season. While that is a convenient excuse, the real reason was a contract dispute prior to the 1969 season. Flood wanted $90,000 and the Cardinals offered something less, in the $78,000 range. Flood stood firm and held out, as many players did in that era. Eventually, the Cardinals gave in and signed Flood for his asking price, but as Steve Carlton would soon learn, that was not a good way to remain on the Cardinals. Gussie Busch did not like holdouts, and it was a sure way to get shipped out of St. Louis.

Perhaps it was due to the stress of the holdout, or maybe some lingering memories of the end of the 1968 World Series, Flood saw his offensive production drop in 1969. His average would fall to .285, which is still respectable for Gold Glove center fielder, but well short of where had had been. Only newcomer Joe Torre and veteran Lou Brock posted higher batting average and on-base percentages. As a result, Flood became somewhat of a scapegoat for a team that finished far below expectations, thanks to a horrifically slow start to the season.

At season’s end, the Cardinals got an opportunity to acquire one of baseball’s elite power hitters, Richie Allen, and the front office jumped on it. There were other players in the final deal, including Tim McCarver, but the principal part of the trade was Curt Flood for Richie Allen. This is the moment when baseball is changed forever – Curt Flood did not accept the trade and refused to report to Philadelphia. It would be impossible for us today to appreciate what some of the players went through in the 60′s, and if you were an African-American player, Philadelphia would have been one of the last places you would want to play. There is a reason that Richie Allen wanted out, and that was not lost on Flood. He had been a part of St. Louis for the last twelve years, and had given a lot to the fans. In return, the fans had been good to Flood and he was one of the most beloved of the Cardinals of the time. All of that was turned upside town in just a moment.

In refusing to report, Flood had to walk away from the game he loved. He would have to sit out and wait for his contract to expire before re-entering the game as a free agent, much like a player that had been released and was no longer wanted. The difference here was that Flood was still in the peak of his career. At age 31, he still had some games left in his body, until the stress of his battle with baseball took it all away. Marvin Miller, head of the player’s union, helped Flood challenge the reserve clause in the collective bargaining agreement. Due to a series of unfortunate events, Flood lost his grievance against baseball and would lose a year of playing time – essentially ending his career. Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally would again challenge the reserve clause in 1975 and win their arbitration case, creating the free agency era that the players enjoy today. Messersmith and McNally got the benefit, but it was Flood that challenged the system and sacrificed the latter part of his career in doing so.

How much did that cost Flood ? Perhaps a place in Cooperstown.

After Flood’s year long holdout in Philadelphia, he was traded to the Washington Senators in 1971. Flood would try to resurrect his career, but it didn’t take long to see that the battle with baseball had taken its toll, and Flood was nowhere near the player he had been. He would finish his career with 7 consecutive Gold Gloves, 1,861 hits, a lifetime .293 batting average and a career on-base percentage of .342. Had he not battled baseball, and stayed healthy, 2,500 hits would not have been out of Flood’s reach. Add another Gold Glove or two and he would be approaching Roberto Clemente territory. As a player, Flood was on a path that should have put him in the Hall of Fame. Given the recent interest in Marvin Miller’s controversial consideration for induction into the Hall of Fame, perhaps the Alumni Committee should instead take another look at the player that sacrificed more than Miller to change baseball and forever change the economic balance of the game.

To Learn More

There are quite a few biographies that try to tackle the career of Curt Flood. Most either portray him as a martyr or a fool and don’t give much more insight than you would get by spending a couple of hours pouring through baseball-reference.com. There are two that stand out above all the others, and I would recommend both if you are interested in learning more about Flood’s career and fight with the game.

The first is Curt Flo0d’s autobiography, The Way it Is. It was written shortly after Flood left baseball, and there is a big sense of bitterness in his writing – but that is important if you want to understand what he went through at the time. Apply a little bit of a filter and you will find a wonderful historical text about one of the most exciting periods in baseball, and one of the players that made it that way.

The other book is Brad Snyder’s A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. This looks more at the legal process that led up to the arbitration hearing and all that went wrong with it. It’s more about the legal system and contracts than baseball, but you will learn a lot by reading it. It is exceptionally well written and helps put a complicated part of baseball history in perspective.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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