Picture This

HBO Shines Light On Baseball Pioneer Curt Flood

7/13/2011 3:19 PM

When most people hear the name Curt Flood, they immediately think of his crusade against the reserve clause in baseball that eventually lead to the age of free agency enjoyed by today’s baseball stars.

Or they think of the All-star center fielder of the 1950s and 1960s whose great defense and clutch hitting helped the St. Louis Cardinals to two World Series wins.

But Flood was also an outspoken civil rights advocates during the 1960s, according to a new documentary airing July 13 titled The Curious Case Of Curt Flood.

From his playing days to his battles with baseball over player contracts, to his fall from grace amid battles with alcohol and smoking to his eventual redemption, HBO painstakingly covers the life of Flood — warts and all.

What may be surprising to even old-school baseball fans watching the documentary is that Flood was a vocal advocate of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, fueled in part by his frustrations with dealing with racism in the sport.

Flood was not afraid to speak out against racial injustice despite the consequences such actions could have had on his then budding career. The documentary shows a young Flood joining with baseball great Jackie Robinson at a 1962 NAACP rally in Mississippi hosted by civil rights icon Medgar Evers , a year before Evers was assassinated, according to the documentary.

But most young people remember Flood for his stance against Major League Baseball’s reserve clause for players. After refusing to accept a trade from the Cardinals to the Phillies in the late 1960s, Flood sued baseball believing that that players should have some say in their contract deals with the league’s  teams.

Flood saw his fight with baseball not only as a battle over money but one of civil rights which made him a controversial figure both on and off the field. The documentary highlights a Flood interview with famed sportscaster Howard Cosell. In response to a Cosell question about Flood’s fight against baseball contracts despite making a then substantial $90,000 salary, Flood’s response was “a well-paid slave is nonetheless still a slave.”

The court case, which the Supreme Court eventually decided against, took a personal toll on Flood. He was shunned by the sport he loved and eventually fled the United States.

But Floods actions eventually led to baseball players gaining the right to free agency in 1975.

Flood would eventually return to the states, and toward the end of his life actually received some credit and respect from baseball for his pioneering efforts before passing away from throat cancer in 1997.

HBO infuses vintage on-the-field clips of Flood’s playing days with informative interviews from Flood’s teammates Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver and Joe Torre -as well as poignant reflections from wife Judy Pace Flood and daughter Shelly Flood — to paint a complete picture of Flood.

It’s worth checking out, even if you’re not a baseball fan.

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