Progress in baseball came with a cost
Bill Fletcher, Jr. | 4/10/2015, 6 a.m.
Anyone who has followed my columns knows that about this time of the year I normally write something about the commencement of the baseball season. More often than not, I write about the late Curt Flood and the late Marvin Miller. Well, guess what? It is the beginning of the baseball season and yes you guessed it, a little something about two heroes, but from a different angle.
One of the most disturbing features of modern baseball is that most fans have no sense of the history of struggle contained in the game. If you have had the opportunity to watch Ken Burns’ award-winning documentary, “Baseball,” you get a better sense of not only the evolution of the sport, but the struggles that unfolded within it, many of which reflected larger changes in US society.
Two of the struggles in Major League Baseball were represented by Curt Flood and separately (and together) by Marvin Miller. Curt Flood resisted being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and in so doing, stood up to a form of baseball indentured servitude known as the “reserve clause.” Under the reserve clause, a player was for all intents and purposes, owned by the team. Flood battled for what became known as “free agency,” which was introduced through a combination of the struggle that Flood unleashed and the organizing and collective bargaining that the Major League Baseball Players Association, under Marvin Miller, conducted. Miller led in the construction of a labor union of baseball players and through that organization, transformed the sport, defying the greedy and myopic owners.
Despite the key historical importance of these two men, over the years the recognition of their significance has diminished. Many of the current members of the Major League Baseball Players Association have no sense of the key role of Curt Flood and the battle that he led for free agency, a battle without which today’s players would never have been able to conceive of their current salaries.
Marvin Miller has been equally ignored, though one could go further and suggest that the late Marvin Miller remains hated by the lords of baseball for ruining the plantation environment that they so cherished. Memories of the successful organization and legitimization of a movement of baseball players that he led have been allowed to largely dissipate from the historical record as the years have moved on.
What is lost with our failure to remember and reflect upon the work of individuals such as Flood and Miller is that progress and justice come with a cost. Flood lost his promising career in baseball not because of greed but because of principle. He was prepared to take the risk and make the sacrifice, knowing full well that he might not, himself, benefit from such a step. Miller threw himself into the building of an organization of a workforce that had been so beaten down over the years that many people believed that a labor union of baseball players was nothing more than a pipe dream.
For these reasons we must not only remember Flood and Miller but must insist that they receive the special recognition that would come from their placement in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Their significance arises not from their stats but from the fact that they led in the renovation of baseball.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.