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Wake of the Flood
During his 15 seasons as a big league manager Joe Torre has often told his players about Curt Flood. The mention of Flood, who died on Monday morning after a long battle with throat cancer, would elicit blank stares from many younger players, but Torre would keep talking about his former St. Louis Cardinals teammate, trying to communicate the importance of Flood's contributions. "So much of what you have," Torre would tell his charges, including the world champion 1996 New York Yankees, "is because of this man."
Flood, who was 59 when he died at UCLA Medical Center, was a man who took on an outfield wall—he was one of the first players adept at the leaping snatch of a potential home run—with the same resolute courage that he took on the lords of baseball. In October 1969 he told the Cardinals, to whom he had given 12 distinguished seasons in centerfield, that he would not honor a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, thus challenging the century-old reserve clause that kept players from having a voice in what team they played for. In a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn he wrote the famous sentence: "I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold."
Flood was widely reviled by the baseball hierarchy, subjected to hate mail and death threats from hostile, uncomprehending fans and branded as a revolutionary by segments of the sporting press. He was nothing of the sort; friends remember him as quiet and thoughtful, "someone with great depth," as Torre put it on Monday. Flood had just opened a studio in St. Louis to paint portraits—Torre's young daughter, Tina, was one of his first subjects—when the Cards informed him of the trade in a terse letter.
With baseball union chief Marvin Miller at his side, Flood filed a suit in January 1970 that charged baseball with violating antitrust laws. Two lower courts and finally the Supreme Court rejected his challenge and upheld the game's antitrust exemption. But, as Miller says, "the case was a winner, even though the decision went against us." With the consciousness of the sports world raised, the union continued its legal challenges, and in 1975, in response to grievances filed by pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith, a federal arbitrator struck down the reserve clause.
Flood rarely complained that he hadn't enjoyed the fruits of his battle (the most he ever made in a season was $90,000) and, according to Miller, knew from the beginning that he was fighting for the generations that would follow him. "He refused to say that present athletes are overpaid," says Miller. "He understood that he, like Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle, was underpaid."
Flood's stats and skills—he was a .293 lifetime hitter over 15 seasons, an outstanding base runner whose abilities were overshadowed by the base-stealing brilliance of teammate Lou Brock, and a seven-time Gold Glover—never got him into the Hall of Fame. But few players hold such importance in baseball's history. "Every ballplayer," said Torre, "not just his contemporaries, should mourn his passing."
Ultimate fighting, the no-holds-barred combat sport that has been drawing crowds—and stirring controversy—in cities across the country, is trying to break into the Big Apple. New York city and state officials barred ultimate fighting in 1995, but last year the state legislature legalized it. Despite the law, city mayor Rudy Giuliani has vowed to prevent a bout that is scheduled to take place in March. "This is people brutalizing each other," the mayor said.
And you'd hate to see that in New York.