Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18, 2009: The Baseball Project - "Gratitude (For Curt Flood)"

Today would have been Curt Flood's 71st birthday.

I had long been fascinated with Flood's story, but did not fully comprehend it until I started reading Brad Snyder's biography A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports.

In a nutshell, until 1975 Major League Baseball's reserve clause tied ballplayers to the teams that originally drafted or sign them. They could be traded at will by the teams, but could not leave on their own as long as the team offered them a contract. When Flood was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies following the 1969 season, he received a $100,000 contract "offer" from the Phillies - extremely generous for the era. He refused to sign it. As one of the elite ballplayers of the '60s, he believed that after his contract had expired he should have the freedom of any other American - to work for and live where he choosed.

Flood ultimately sued Major League Baseball over the reserve clause, charging that it violated federal antitrust laws. At the peak of his career, the three-time All Star and seven-time Gold Glove Winner sat out the entire 1970 season as the case went to the Supreme Court. He lost the case, but laid the groundwork for the overthrow of the reserve clause five years later.

Now, onto the Baseball Project. They are an all-star band made up of Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), and Linda Pitmon. All the songs are about our national pasttime.

As someone who's passion for music is exceeded only by my obsession with baseball, I was skeptical. I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to it, though. The songs are sharp, funny, even educational. Most importantly to me, they were accurate. These folks know their baseball.

My favorite cut on the album is "Gratitude (For Curt Flood)," as much a diatribe against the selfishness of the modern athlete as it is a tribute to Flood.

Gratitude (For Curt Flood) - The Baseball Project
Become a fan of Curt Flood on Facebook! (Yeah, I created the page)

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