A Flood of golden memories
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2009 - During my three years with USA TODAY Baseball Weekly, I had the great fortune to attend the annual Rawlings Gold Glove Banquet in New York and report on one of the most exclusive award ceremonies in American sport.
It was black tie and they weren’t foolin’ around. There were no exceptions. Three times, I rented a tuxedo, caught a train and checked into a Manhattan hotel.
In 1991, the guest of honor was Joe DiMaggio. If America had royalty, they would be treated as DiMaggio was that warm November evening. Forget about an autograph or a handshake, if you got within 20 yards of Joltin' Joe, all you would have got was Maced.
A year later on Nov. 5, 1992, a retired player who meant as much to me as DiMaggio meant to millions of baseball fans was an honoree.
This player was not being honored for a Hall of Fame career or because he surpassed one of baseball’s storied records.
No, this man was there to actually receive a Gold Glove – the standard for defensive excellence in Major League Baseball.
Now in his 50s, the gentleman was not in good health for his age and his hands shook as he approached the dais to accept his Gold Glove.
But it was his Gold Glove and it was not an honorary “thank you” that was not truly deserved.
The man was Curt Flood and the Gold Glove he accepted was earned during the 1969 season. In January 1970, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. While all is fair in love and baseball, Flood’s contract had expired.
The only hold the Cardinals held over Flood – as did all other teams over all other players – was an antiquated code called “the reserve clause.”
It basically mandated that a Major League Baseball player was the property of the team that held his contract – even after that contract expired.
There was no free agency. There was no right to seek your highest value on the open market. So Flood challenged baseball.
And Flood lost.
But his insurrection led directly to free agency and eliminated the indentured servant status of MLB players.
Flood paid a heft price financially and emotionally.
He would play a season with the Washington Senators in 1971 after essentially being blackballed in 1970. He once returned to his locker and was greeted by a funeral wreath. This is why he didn’t receive his Gold Glove in 1969. It was withheld because he had the nerve to question baseball.
I was a fan of Flood the player as a boy and the stand he took in the 9th year of my life has meant more to me with each passing day.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Brian Burwell wrote following the All-Star Game of his disappointment in the St. Louis Cardinals for having no recognition of Flood during numerous tributes and recognitions. I noted during the week that a video tribute included Keith Hernandez and Joaquin Andujar but not Flood.
We had shared our thoughts in a press box on Tuesday night and both agreed that the Flood slight was among several missed opportunities.
This is why I am so glad I didn’t miss mine on that night in New York.
Following the banquet I approached Flood with the Gold Glove Baseball that everyone in attendance had received. It notes the date and location of the banquet and also the fact that this baseball is only one of 1,000. It has gold-colored stitching, by the way.
“Mr. Flood, my name is Alvin Reid and I’m from St. Louis. I’d be honored if you would sign my baseball,” I said.
I will never forget what then happened.
His eyes pooled up and he said, “Well, my hands shake now.”
I was just about to say “that’s fine, can I get a photo with you?” when he said “I’m going to sign that ball.”
And he signed it. And his signature is beautiful. It was like he signed the ball in 1969. I held the ball in my left hand and shook the right hand of one of the most important men to ever play baseball.
Flood died on January 20, 1997, 27 years after he refused to report to the Phillies and a bit more than four years following the night we met in New York.
I wish throat cancer had not stricken Flood so early in his life and taken him at 59 because I think he would have become a social and political force in America. But I’m so thrilled that I got to meet him before he passed.
It was truly a “Golden” moment.
Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.