Curt Flood: American Hero

He could have contented himself with stardom, but he had to go out and try to break the last great American monopoly, Major League Baseball.

“I am pleased that God made my skin black — but I wish He had made it thicker.” —Curt Flood

As a kid I was, for some mysterious reason, a fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals. When I gave my heart to Baseball in the mid-1970s, I lived thousands of miles from Saint Louis and the Redbirds were mediocre, but it may be that I absorbed some subconscious reverence for the team from overhearing the San Francisco Giants games and sports talk shows playing on Dad’s radio.

Baseball's Best Centerfielder

“Baseball’s Best Centerfielder”

I was raised with the certain knowledge that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player ever, and that the Giants were miserably hopeless. That was just Dad’s way of being a baseball addict. It seems like baseball has always been a bad trip for him, but that rarely stopped him from listening in on a game.

It seemed like he had nothing bad to say about the Cardinals. Maybe that’s why I became a Cards fan rather than a Giants fan. Maybe it was those glowing red and white home uniforms. Names like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Lou Brock shone in the firmament of my childhood; though not quite so brightly as Mays.

Some seem to have believed that Curt Flood was a better defensive centerfielder than Mays. That’s saying a lot.

I don’t remember hearing much if anything about Flood. He was a masterful centerfielder and embattled player activist, who left Major League Baseball long before my dad and little brother converted me. Until recently, I had no idea what he went through. The old stories of American racial hatred never cease to shock me.

By 1957, my second year in the South, I thought I was beyond crying, but one day we were playing a double-header…And…after the end of the first game you take your uniform off and you throw it into a big pile and the clubhouse manager, he comes and he gets your uniform and he drys them and he cleans them and then you play the second game with the same uniform…I, like everybody else, I threw my uniform right into the big pile with everybody else’s and the clubhouse guy came by with one of these long sticks with a nail on it and he very carefully picked my uniform out from the white guys uniforms and my little sweatshirt and my little jock strap and everything. Sent my uniform to the colored cleaners which was probably 20 minutes away and there I sat while all the other guys were on the field. [The crowd has] really been giving me hell all day long, and now I’m sitting there stark naked waiting for my uniform to come back from the cleaners and the other guys were out on the field. So finally they get my uniform back and I walk out on the field . . . boy you’d think that I had just burned the American Flag.

Curt Flood, Ken Burns’ Baseball, Seventh Inning.

Story: Flood Is at Peace With His Lost Career

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