A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Curt Flood

Everything I need to know about labor and management, I learned from baseball. In my younger days of college, I read Krakauer and Marx and Thoreau and Zinn and a wide variety of books that talked about what a person should be living and working for, and it didn't matter if it was Into the Wild or Wage and Capital, the answer was always so much clearer by reading about how bad baseball screwed the pooch when it came to the strike that killed the World Series in 1994 (far worse than Shoeless Joe Jackson and crew taking money to blow the series). The NHL and the NBA also screwed their pooches in trying to lockout players for extended periods of time.
Inevitably, it's always about more money, and I begrudge nobody the opportunity to get more money, but I will say that if you're asking, you need good persuasive leverage. Albert Pujols has more chance to get $300 million if he doesn't care where he works because not every company (team) can afford to mortgage the future for him (that's why Washington will pony up big and pay him to bring his perfect citizenship score to the nation's capital and that's why teams in the Texas Rangers' league won't be doing another A-Rod signing).
But the history of baseball and the reserve clause and free agency came a long way since the beginning. It came a long way since Curt Flood told Howard Cosell that he was a "well paid slave" while making $90,000 a year. And perhaps he truly felt that he was owned and marginalized by the Cardinals, but in reality, even in the tumultuous late sixties, America didn't want to hear slavery. We were 100 years removed from Appomatox, and frankly, nobody alive was still putting people to work in the fields. Sure, there was the civil rights movement that had just taken place and we as a country had realized that we weren't quite so kind to African Americans with Jim Crow, but many opinions (though not all then or ever) were changing and we were learning our lessons and growing. We didn't want to be reminded of those days, and for good reasons - it wasn't like we were the slave owners or the framers who let the Constitution be written with slavery as a system that was accepted by the institution that was to be America.
And even if Curt Flood never succeeded and basically destroyed himself in alienation, prostitutes, and alcohol, at home and abroad, he was trying to do what was right and to eliminate the reserve clause with a little help from his friends (Marvin Miller). He led the way to others who had more clout. In that, there was Catfish Hunter and Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally who made it all happen, and now there are 9 players who have or will have made $20million in a year (if they play this season). There are 8 players who have signed contracts for more than $150million for their duration (one twice - A-Rod). And perhaps, that's what it means to be a talented sports star risking health to perform for the crowds.
But that doesn't mean that it resonates with the masses.
So when the NFL decides to lock out its players in the wake of labor issues, we have to take note. When the NFL Player's Association tells young players who are about to be drafted to stay home and give up the night of fame at the start of their show, we raise our ears to hear what is about to be said.
And what do we hear:
It's modern-day slavery, you know? People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money … the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money. I understand that; these are business-minded people. Of course this is what they are going to want to do. I understand that; it's how they got to where they are now. But as players, we have to stand our ground and say, 'Hey -- without us, there's no football.' There are so many different perspectives from different players, and obviously we're not all on the same page -- I don't know. I don't really see this going to where we'll be without football for a long time; there's too much money lost for the owners. Eventually, I feel that we'll get something done.
And once again... nobody wants to hear the S word. Nobody wants to hear a sports star bitch and moan - no matter what point he makes.
And both sides lose because they aren't close to playing ball with one another to play ball. We don't want the labor arguments - not when we're giving up cash for every government initiative down the pike. Not when we're losing salary due to budget cuts. Not when Japanese people are scared to death that the radiation will give them cancer or kill them outright.
So really, shut the hell up Adrian.
Come take my writing class, and I'll teach you how to truly persuade people.

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