Cardinals to induct former outfielder into their Hall of Fame in August
By Terence Moore
Shelly Flood sighed over the phone from her home in Los Angeles on Thursday after recalling all of those decades when nobody knew one of the most important people in the history of sports. "While growing up, people would introduce me to other folks, and they would say, 'This is the daughter of Curt Flood,' and the introduction would be to older people, and they would say, 'Who?'" said Shelly, pausing, likely to unclench her teeth.
"Those situations would mess me up. They would devastate me, and I really didn't know the full scoop of my father's sacrifice, because I was very young at the time when he was going through [his struggles]. But I knew something happened, and I knew he was very famous, but now nobody knows who he is."
That was then. As for now, the legacy of the late Curt Flood is leaving the shadows, and it is doing so in a hurry. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Then came last month, when the Cardinals announced Flood will become part of their Hall of Fame in August. A couple weeks before that St. Louis event, there will be a national one in Cooperstown, where Baseball Hall of Fame officials said they will have a special recognition of Flood on the day prior to its annual induction ceremony.
What we have here is Flood reaching first base, maybe second or even third, along his way to his induction someday into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which would be his version of sliding into home plate.
Actually, Flood shouldn't have to slide. He should go into Cooperstown standing, just like he did when he became more than just a splendid center fielder and efficient hitter during most of his 15 years in the Major Leagues, including 12 with the Cards. Flood is the primary reason the average salary of a Major League player on Opening Day this year was $4 million. He's the primary reason Kobe Bryant is making nearly $24 million each season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Flood is the primary reason six NFL quarterbacks are in Bryant territory.
Flood is the primary reason for free agency in pro sports.
Consider the CliffsNotes (or should I say CurtsNotes) version: By baseball standards in 1969, Flood ranked on the high side when his annual salary with the Cardinals was $90,000. Even so, he refused a trade from the Cards to the Phillies for money and a lot of reasons, but principle was highest on the list.
Flood sent a letter to then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn that December blasting the game's reserve clause that legally kept players tied to a team forever until that team decided should "forever" end with a trade. He took his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1972. Flood sat out the 1970 season, and his Major League career ended with 10 games in '71 with the Washington Senators. But his vision continued, and it involved players having control of their own destiny. Soon, after the 1975 season, Flood's vision became reality. Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally refused to play that year, and free agency was born -- with Flood as its father.
It's just that few people acknowledged as much. Until recently.
"My dad has been gone since 1997 [when he died of throat cancer], but now you can sense that we're finally getting some buzz," said Shelly, who has joined her four other siblings in turning what barely was a spark for Flood's memory into a slowly rising inferno. Scott Flood and his wife, Pam, were instrumental in the 2011 HBO documentary called "The Curious Case of Curt Flood." Curt Flood Jr. has spoken at symposiums involving his father, including at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
Then there is Shelly, a huge keeper of the Curt Flood flame. She is heavy contributor to the "Put Curt Flood In The Hall of Fame" fan page that came out of nowhere on Facebook. It now has 3,387 members and counting. She also runs her own Curt Flood page on Facebook, with 1,614 likes and counting.
"I don't know. The number of fans on those Facebook pages and the comments and the postings, they're all just kind of comforting," Shelly said. "My dad's not here, but I can go on the page, and I can read people telling stories about when they met him and about the first time they watched him. You know, it just continues to breathe life into somebody who was such an integral part of my life and who now is missing. But not really."
Shelly laughed, recalling a scene earlier this month in Los Angeles. The Cardinals came to town, and Shelly took a break from her work as an educator (where she helps those with drug, alcohol and gang issues) to attend a game at Dodger Stadium. She has spent most of her life in Southern California, but she still bleeds the distinctive red colors of her father's team of a dozen years.
On the train to the ballpark, Shelly started a conversation with fans nearby that led to a discussion about Curt Flood.
"I asked this guy, 'If you call yourself a true baseball fan, who started free agency?'" Shelly said. "The guy and folks around him all kind of pondered the question, and then the guy said, 'That's got to be Curt Flood.' And I said, 'Oh, my God. You know?' I shook his hand, and then another guy started rattling off everything he knew about Curt Flood. Then, one of the other guys got intimidated, and he started rattling things off."
Just so you know, Flood was a defensive genius. He won seven consecutive Gold Gloves through the 1969 season -- and he was doing all of that during the era of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. Flood could also hit. His lifetime batting average was .293, and he finished over .300 in six of his 12 full seasons in the Major Leagues. Additionally, Flood made three trips to the All-Star Game, and he played on three World Series teams, including two that won World Series championships.
"Anyway, I'm on that train, coming back from the game, and I started this big discussion with that one guy about Curt Flood, and now everybody is talking about him," Shelly said. "Then I told my friend I went to the game with, 'Now watch this.' I took my phone out, and my lock-screen picture on my cell phone is that of my dad. I showed the picture to folks on the train, and I said, 'Curt Flood is my dad,' and they all went, 'Oh, no.'"
Oh, yes, and Curt Flood is rounding third ...
Hopefully toward Cooperstown.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.