Sunday, March 10, 2013

Curt Flood: The Way It Is

So, to be very honest, I didn't read this whole book. I skimmed it at the library while writing an OaklandWiki entry about Curt Flood. But I read enough (let's say 200 of the 250 pages) of "The Way It Is" to feel comfortable writing this: the book is a fast and engaging and devastating read that really any fan of the game should read. Flood, besides being a famous and well respected baseball player, is from Oakland, and that alone makes him awesome. But beyond that, he's the guy that wouldn't take the trade. In 1969 the Cardinals, the team he had played with for 12 years, traded (or tried to trade him) to the Phillies. (For a clean version, read the Atlantic Monthly article from 2011 that came out after the HBO documentary that I haven't seen but might look for.) At that time, baseball players were total property of the team, and Flood finally had enough. He had been active in baseball's player's association, but this was the last straw: he wanted to be his own man, and he wanted baseball to follow US labor law.

The book is short and readable and eminently heart breaking. Written before the outcome of the case in 1970- the Supreme Court found for MLB in 1972- Flood is clearly ahead of his time in terms of his outspokenness about racial disparity both within and without baseball. Although he publicly says that his fight against MLB is not about race, he admits he has second thoughts about this. He writes poignantly about the shock of going from West Oakland, where whites are seldomly seen authority figures to dealing with the Jim Crow south and blatant, horrible racism. The book is written conversationally, and you can almost read between the lines as Flood falls into alcoholism and melancholy. I did a little further reading in "The Curt Flood Story" by Stuart Weiss, published in 2007, and found that either Wiess doesn't think much of Flood or Flood was quite self-serving in his autobiography. He had serious financial troubles and was more than a little emotionally unsteady. Bottom line, though, "The Way It Is" is a baseball autobiography that is a true picture of a moment in time. Flood tells it like it is: he's honest about ownership in a way few players dare to be, and more fans and players should be now.