It was no accident that two of the most prominent American Jews of the ‘0th century former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and baseball great Hank Greenberg were involved in Curt Flood’s 1970 suit against Major League Baseball, which not only revolutionized baseball but all American professional sports, as well.
So says Brad Snyder, 34, whose "A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports" (Viking) was published earlier this year.
"American Jews, like African Americans, are very sensitive to injustice," says the Washington, D.C., resident. "The Curt Flood case is a microcosm of blacks and Jews standing side by side during the civil rights movement."
Goldberg was a mixed blessing for Flood, according to the author. He was distracted by his N.Y. gubernatorial race during the trial and, despite being a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, "gave one of the worst arguments in the history of the Supreme Court," says Snyder, a Yale Law School graduate.
But Goldberg convinced a reluctant Greenberg, one of baseball’s icons, to testify on Flood’s behalf. Flood had played for the St. Louis Cardinals for 1′ years when the team traded him to Philadelphia in 1969.
He refused the trade even though players then were bound to their teams for their entire career unless they were traded and sued baseball for the right to become a free agent. The Supreme Court ruled against Flood 5-3, but the trial turned fans against the owners, and in 1975, players won the right to free agency.
Aware that the action would destroy his career, Flood insisted on the suit after he was told that it would help other players.
Snyder discovered that the civil rights movement motivated Flood to go forward with his suit. He had grown up in Oakland, Calif., and didn’t experience much discrimination as a youngster. But when the Cincinnati Reds signed him and sent him to play in North Carolina, he saw racial bias up close, and got more of the same the following year in Savannah, Ga.
When the Reds traded him to the Cardinals, he had to stay in private homes, rather than the team hotel, during spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla. Those experiences motivated him "because freedom meant more to him than money or fame," Snyder writes. "Segregation and discrimination imbued Flood and other black athletes of his generation with a heightened sensitivity to injustice."
Snyder puts Flood on the same plane with Jackie Robinson (who also testified for Flood at his trial).
"Robinson started the revolution by putting on a uniform," he writes. "Flood finished it by taking his uniform off. Robinson fought for racial justice. Flood fought the less-sympathetic fight for economic justice. They never stopped fighting for freedom."
Aaron Leibel writes for the Washington Jewish Week.