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Getting Out Of Our Limousines

September 06, 2016
By Mike Skaggs

Born in Texas and raised in Oakland, CA, Curt Flood was a professional baseball player in the 1960s. In the field and at the plate, Flood was impressive. A Gold Glove winner for seven straight seasons (‘63-’69), he was selected as an All-Star in 1964, 1966, and 1968. A member of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, Flood played on their 1964 and 1967 World Series championship teams.

Flood’s greatest legacy, however, is off the field where he is best known for filing suit against Major League Baseball in a petition for free agency, refusing to be traded to Philadelphia. Flood appealed his case all the way to the US Supreme Court. Although he lost by a 5-3 decision, his actions solidified players in the fight for free agency, laying the groundwork for the current free agent era.

Before his legal battle began, many counseled him not to raise a fuss. Even Flood predicted that afterward not “one of the 24 men controlling the game will touch me with a 10-foot pole.” And he was close to right. After sitting out the 1970 season, he was traded by Philadelphia to the Washington Senators where he played in a handful of games before finally retiring at the season’s end.

And that’s about it. In retirement, Flood ran a small bar before returning to baseball for a marginally successful career as a broadcaster until his death in 1997. And there you have the story of Curtis Charles Flood. Pretty cool, and kind of interesting, especially for you baseball history folks.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that Curt Flood was a black man playing baseball in the racially turbulent 1960s. He tells of a clubhouse manager picking up his uniform with a stick and sending it to a “colored cleaners” separately from the white players’ uniforms and recounts fans calling him every name imaginable. While Flood said he was pleased God had made his skin black, he just wished God had made it a little thicker.

But the Cardinals organization was a major league anomaly. Ahead of their times, owner Gussie Busch and general manager Bing Devine accumulated one of the most diverse teams in the league. Black and white players roomed together during spring training, with their families enjoying team picnics together in a time and place where such integration was rare. As one player remembered it, “The camaraderie on the Cardinals was practically revolutionary.”

One day as the team was warming up for an away game, Flood was approached by Busch on the field. The paternalistic owner asked Flood how he’d slept the night before. Busch was surprised to hear that not only had his star centerfielder not slept well, but that the trip to the stadium had been tiring. Busch learned that, in that city, colored players weren’t allowed to stay in the same team hotel adjacent to the stadium where the white players stayed. Curt Flood, Bill White, Bob Gibson, and other black players had been forced to find lodging all the way across town.

Busch was both livid and heartbroken. Angry at the ill-treatment of players whom he’d worked so hard to treat well, he was also heartbroken that his own affluence had isolated him from an awareness of their condition. He had unwittingly allowed himself to be segregated “from the back seat of his limousine.”

That hit me hard. I don’t have a limousine, and I’m guessing you don’t either. But don’t we still find ways to segregate ourselves and our children? In our busyness, comfort, and striving to get ahead (or just keep up), we miss out on the injustice and hurt that affects people all around us.

Curt Flood felt the sting of injustice. In addressing the executive board of the player’s union, he said, “the change in black consciousness in recent years has made me more sensitive to injustice in every area of my life.” He was a professional athlete making $90,000 a year, and while many warned him that he’d be blackballed, he would not remain silent or still.

And neither should we.

TCA’s core values address individual and corporate integrity, servanthood, and a sense of responsibility to our community. In short, we want to make this world a better place because that’s what we’ve been told to do by our Father. There will always be racism, poverty, disease, and a myriad of physical and emotional hurts all around us, but we must never lose sight of our calling to relieve suffering. To show a better way. To point to a better place.

This happens when students bring food for a Center of Hope canned food drive. This happens when a student signs up for an I-term service trip and sacrifices her time and money to go serve others. This happens when our elementary students become pen-pals with students at an inner city school where the kids may look and live a little differently. This happens when a member of the TCA family is hurting and we surround them with love and faithfully lift them up in prayer. This happens when a high school baseball player spends his Saturday morning with teammates on a Miracle League baseball field playing ball with special needs boys and girls.

This happens at TCA, and we want it to happen more. Thanks for partnering with us as we seek to use this time—our time—to show the world a better way.

So what limousine back seat you need to exit today to engage the world God’s put at your feet?