COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Who can appreciate a sacrifice more than baseball people? Sacrificing a turn at bat to advance a runner is a valued skill and a venerated strategy. So it was about time that the Hall of Fame finally acknowledged Curt Flood, who gave up his whole career and moved the sport forward.
It was a small step, but it was something.
During a formal awards ceremony on the hallowed ground of Doubleday Field, the Hall marked the 45th anniversary of the season in which Flood decided not to play.
Technically, it was a celebration of a defeat. Flood refused to report to the Phillies for the 1970 season after he was traded by the Cardinals. His point was that teams had the ability to move players at will but players had no power to go from team to team on their own. He took his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And lost.
But he got the conversation started. Major League Baseball was forced to confront the specter of free agency and the fear that it would put almost everybody out of business.
For the record, it should be noted that that didn't happen. The majors reaped a reported $9 billion in revenues last season.
Also, in Flood's day and for years after that, there was concern that only the richest clubs would be able to compete for titles. To be fair, it still does seem as though the big-market, deep-pockets franchises always are ahead in the count. Then again, already in this young century, nine different teams have won the World Series. Included in that group are the Red Sox and White Sox, who once looked as if their next championships would come right around doomsday.
So Flood never did cause the sky to fall. This is not to say that he is the sole cause of the boom in American sports -- cable television, more leisure time and disposable income contributed heavily -- but he sure didn't hurt. For one thing, free agency has made offseason baseball a hot topic through cold winters.
It is sad to say that Flood's major moral victory did not do much for him. Flood played only 13 more games, with the then-Washington Senators, before he retired. He died in 1997, way too soon to hear his name get big cheers in Cooperstown.
Is it too much to ask that the Hall permanently honor Flood and/or former union head Marvin Miller, as it has done for executives?
"We can't say 'thank you' enough," said Tony Clark, head of the players association and a former player for the Mets, Yankees and other teams. "You'd have to ask the powers that be, but I will offer you this: It is disheartening that neither Mr. Miller nor Curt Flood have a plaque in the Hall."
At the very least, the acknowledgment Saturday was educational. Said Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, "With the sacrifice he made, basically losing the end [portion] of his career by not playing and then having a problem with a lot of lawyers, he made a lot of these ballplayers millionaires with free agency. I think he is one of the individuals who changed the game."
Fellow Hall of Famer Rod Carew, another of Flood's contemporaries, said, "Well, I hope all the young kids understand what Curt did for us. He gave us the opportunity to get better payment. The kids today especially should understand what Curt went through for them. They've got to learn about him and show their appreciation."
Clark was asked whether Flood could be enshrined as a player for a solid 15-year career (.293 lifetime average, great centerfield defense) or as a "contributor." He paused as if to say, good question. "You could put him wherever you need to put him," the first baseman-turned-union chief said. "But you need to put him."
Good idea. Springing for a plaque for Flood would not be too great a sacrifice.