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A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports By Brad Snyder Viking, 25.95 So many baseball players now regularly knock their salaries out of the park that it’s hard to remember a time when there weren’t any overpaid prima donnas. But before players won the right to offer themselves as free agents, there was little they could do to manage their careers. Their contracts were renewed, canceled, sold or traded at the whim of their owners. A lawsuit by baseball player Curt Flood helped change all that. In 1969, after being traded to a team he didn’t like, Flood sued Major League Baseball for the ability to negotiate a contract with the team of his choosing. Even though Flood lost, his case helped convince athletes and sports fans that the old contract system was unfair. Emboldened by his challenge, the baseball players union embarked on a successful campaign to win the right of free agency over the next few years, a reform that subsequently spread in various forms to all of the major sports leagues. In “A Well Paid Slave,” Brad Snyder traces the history of the Flood case. Snyder started as a news and sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun, then switched gears to work as an associate at Williams & Connolly. In his new book (his second), he uses his journalism and legal skills to create a fascinating portrait of baseball as a big business. The sportswriter in Snyder shines through with suspense, clarity and pacing, while his years as a litigator help him illuminate the quirks that make baseball’s reserve clause worthy of legal exploration. As a center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals in the ’60s, Curt Flood played a key role in leading his team to two World Series championships. But off the field, he was a decidedly complicated character. Flood bamboozled customers through a portrait-studio sideline, and spent part of his free time boozing and chasing women. Yet Flood, who was African-American, was also very active in the civil rights movement � he won a court order to move his family into a white neighborhood that had tried to exclude them. After the Cardinals traded Flood to the lackluster Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, he sat out the upcoming season to protest the trade. With the backing of the Major League Baseball Players Association, he sued the baseball commissioner as well as all 24 team owners. Flood argued that he should be free to negotiate with the team of his choice. Under the reserve system in place at the time, team owners had almost complete control over the contract process � how much to pay players, and whether to keep them, trade them, or drop them. The only leverage that a player had was to threaten to retire. Flood sacrificed a hefty payday to pursue his suit. The Phillies offered him the same $90,000 annual salary that he had received from the Cardinals (a figure that, adjusted for inflation, would come to almost a half-million today). When legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell suggested on ABC’s Wide World of Sports that Flood’s compensation “isn’t exactly slave wages,” the player replied, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.” Though Flood and his suit dominate Snyder’s book, the author also fleshes out the characters in the outfield, especially the attorneys who waged the legal battle. Flood based his claim on an argument that baseball’s contract restrictions violated federal and state antitrust laws: Because he couldn’t freely negotiate with individual teams, the owners were essentially operating a monopoly. But in a 5-to-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him. Still, Flood did win in the court of public opinion, and his challenge united his baseball colleagues. In 1972 the players delayed the start of the season with a 13-day strike. Through subsequent suits and negotiations, they finally won the right to negotiate contracts with any team they wanted. Ultimately, Flood left the game with a mixed legacy. His fight helped athletes gain professional freedom, but it also led to the greed-soaked modern sports economy. Still, Snyder believes that Flood is just as deserving of a place in the baseball pantheon as Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the major leagues. “Robinson started the revolution by putting on a uniform,” Snyder writes. “Flood finished it by taking his uniform off. Robinson fought for racial justice. Flood fought the less-sympathetic fight for economic justice.” Ross Todd is a staff reporter at The American Lawyer, a Recorder affiliate based in New York.

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