In 1969 I was a young, 13-year-old Phillies fan. I had been following the team for only 5 years after THE Debacle in 1964. But I was hooked nonetheless. As is the pull on must boys that age, professional sports - especially baseball in '60s and early '70s - were the primary source of entertainment when not actually playing the games. So it was with excitement that so many of us greeted the news that Curt Flood, current baseball TV analyst Tim McCarver, and Joe Hoerner were coming to the Phillies in a trade that included a scorned Dick (Richie) Allen, favorite Cookie Rojas (!!!), and Jerry Johnson going to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Richie Allen had become persona non grata in Philadelphia. He had been blamed for a fight with teammate Frank Thomas (1B), a fight eventually attributed to Thomas when he admitted he had swung a bat at Allen. He sliced open his hand pushing a broken down auto ON THE HEADLIGHT! Fans were upset. He once missed a double hitter when he stayed to long at the race track. So Allen had been roundly booed and abused by Phillies fans as he boldly displayed his unhappiness playing in Philadelphia. The relationship - with the team and the fans - had been on an irreversible plunge.
Then Curt Flood decided to fight Major League Baseball's Reserve Clause, which tied a player to the team that drafted and developed him regardless of perceived contract fairness. So Flood refused to report to Philadelphia. His legal challenge eventually wound its way to the United States Supreme Court, where The Court ruled in the MLB's favor. However, MLB - perhaps seeing the writing on the wall - negotiated the 10/5 rule, where players with 10 years in MLB and 5 years with the same team could not be traded without their consent. The rule was known as the Curt Flood Rule.
Part of Flood's reluctance to play in Philadelphia was the dismal state of the baseball team. After reaching a peak during the 1964 season, the team had just one more winning season ('65: 82-80), and by 1969 was in the midst of a franchise slide that would run into the mid-'70s. So Flood's reluctance on that level was to be expected.
But Flood also cited the poor relationship Philadelphia fans were having with Dick (Richie) Allen at the time of the trade. This too was a legitimate observation if not a particularly valid reason for refusing to play for the Phillies. Flood suggested that Philadelphia fans were racist towards Allen. Yet Allen was hardly the only African-American or black Hispanic player that graced the field at Connie Mack Stadium. Tony Taylor, Johnny Briggs, Wes Covington, and Willie Montanez (one of the players to replace Flood in the failed trade) were well-respected for their talent and enthusiastic play. But Phillies fans rarely give their respect towards players who they perceive would rather be anywhere else but here. Allen possessed the admiration of Phillies fans for an extended period. He lost it, largely through his own actions.
Although I was keenly aware that Dick Allen had worn out his welcome in Philly, Curt Flood's decision to fight the trade through legal options was lost on this 13 year-old. Newspaper stories and photos of Allen's infield dirt scribblings ("Mom" in one, "Oct 2", the end of the season in another, followed by "Coke" and Phillies' fans favorite sound ... "Boo") were regular features on the sports page of The Evening Bulletin (for which I was a paperboy). Everyone KNEW he didn't want to be in Philly anymore.
But Flood's outright refusal to play here was as foreign to me - at the tender age of 13 - as a Phillies World Series appearance that winter of 1970. Concepts like the Reserve Clause, free agency, players' association, and Marvin Miller were beyond my reckoning as a kid who simply adored the sport of baseball. When Flood likened playing baseball under the Reserve Clause to slavery, I was aghast. A baseball player, playing a game for $90,000 a year (Flood was offered a raise to $100,000 to play in Philadelphia.) was a "SLAVE"?!? But refusing to play was incomprehensible! As a naive - perhaps shielded - young fan, I viewed a trade as a solemn compact between two clubs; I had never considered that a player might feel differently about being horse traded to somewhere he didn't want to go. To me, it was all part of the game.
As time went on, I was to learn more than I wanted to know about Baseball: The Business; how much money was involved; how little control players had over their destinations in all sports, not just baseball. I would learn about the difficulties the game's best players had in leveraging their talents - and the demand for those talents from both teams and fans - into financial terms that the player believed accurately reflected his value. I learned about Babe Ruth's monumental demand to be paid more than the President of the United States; about how Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale formed a pact one year to stay out of the Dodgers rotation until they BOTH received acceptable contract raises; and about what happened when a player decided his talents and individual freedom were more important than the game's business structure (See Flood, Curt; Drew, J.D.; Manning, Eli for football's version).
It wasn't a pretty lesson; and it certainly wasn't a welcomed one. But for a 13 year-old with stars in his eyes, it was a timely lesson in The Real World.
To read more of Hatboro Mike's baseball and Phillies experiences, visit his blog The View from Section 135!