MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

As we celebrate CRG, let's remember Flood

Moore: As we celebrate, let's remember Flood

As we celebrate CRG, let's remember Flood
With Major League Baseball's Civil Rights Weekend starting on Friday in Atlanta, the usual names keep surfacing, and that's fine.

Jackie Robinson. Martin Luther King Jr. Hank Aaron.

It's just that, when it comes to such things -- actually, all things regarding persons with social impact in baseball, sports and beyond -- Curt Flood often is the forgotten guy.

This makes no sense. Not only was Flood not afraid to become a mostly singular voice during the 1960s, but his courage led to the national pastime and other professional sports having free agency.

To put it bluntly, Flood is the reason Derek Jeter had enough pennies to build that mansion the size of a Caribbean Island. Flood also set the foundation for 19 NBA players entering this season making an annual salary of $15 million or more. You also see Flood's influence on the NFL, where its owners are so dismayed over players getting 60 percent of the league's $7 billion in total revenue per season that the league is in the midst of a lockout with no end in sight.

Flood could play, too. During his 15 seasons in the Majors, primarily with the St. Louis Cardinals, he finished with a career batting average of .293, seven consecutive Gold Gloves and three trips to the World Series that produced two world championships.

So, given the combination of Flood's prowess on and off the field, he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. The problem is, he's more than just the forgotten guy. He's also the controversial guy.

In the minds of many (and likely some on the Veterans Committee, which is Flood's only vehicle to reach the Hall of Fame these days), he was as detrimental to baseball as an eternal rain delay. He dared to challenge baseball's rules -- the famed reserve clause -- that tied a player to a team forever. He did so with boldness, wrapped in grace, by detailing clearly when he refused to accept a trade after the 1969 season from the Cardinals to the Phillies.

Worse, Flood did so as an African-American, and I say that, because of the following: Despite the outspoken ways of Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell, the slew of prominent black baseball players during the 1960s were only into playing and keeping their mouths shut.

None publicly supported Flood.

Few -- if any -- even did so privately.

"Are you asking me if I was afraid? Is that what you're asking?" said Frank Robinson, one of those prominent black players during a 2009 interview. "I was still trying to establish myself, and you know ... To answer your question, yes. Yes."

If historians are judging through objective eyes, Flood ranks among the 20 most significant persons in the history of pro sports. Just in baseball, only Babe Ruth, Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Robinson had as much an impact on the game as Flood.

Which is why a New York baseball fan named Daniel Grindlinger and one of his business associates took up Flood's Hall of Fame cause on Facebook nearly two years ago.

Then Shelly Flood got involved.

"I just kind of fell into it," said Shelly, chuckling, during a panel discussion on her father this week in Atlanta at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History. Shelly was born in 1961 as the fourth of Curt's five children, and when she isn't working as a substance-abuse counselor in Los Angeles, she is leading Grindlinger's Facebook campaign to get her father into Cooperstown.

Added Shelly, "When I joined Facebook about 1½ years ago, I was perusing the different pages, and I came across a 'Put Curt Flood in the Hall of Fame' page. So I didn't start the page. I joined it, and then I started sharing the page with my network, and then when I met one day with (Grindlinger, when he was living in Los Angeles for a stretch), it began to take on a velocity that was amazing."

It's up to 2,500 members and rising.

At some point this summer, Shelly wants to present the testimonials of Curt Flood supporters who go far and beyond that Facebook page to members of the Veterans Committee.

Added Shelly, "The thing is, I've heard it over and over again, and it's, 'Oh, he's never going to make it. Oh, it's going to be hard. Oh, it's going to be difficult.' But I promise you. That's not my mindset. I actually had a premonition that it's going to happen. It's been given to me, and I tell people that it isn't my mission. It really isn't.

"It's a fan-based initiative. The fans of the game have decided it is wrong to censor history." It is horribly wrong in this case, since Flood is the most prominent bridge that links the old salary system in baseball (and in all pro sports, for that matter) with the current one that makes it possible for players to become part of our free-market society. Thanks to Flood, for instance, baseball is even more a part of America's soul than it was before.

Sounds like a Hall of Famer, all right.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.