Flood and Roe v Kuhn and Wade
BEYOND 42, After 42 Part II
Flood and Roe v. Kuhn and Wade: Justice Harry Blackmun Presiding
Baseball’s fight for economic equality crosses paths with Jackie Robinson’s fight for racial equality.
Part I of this story can be found here
The two issues that defined baseball after World War II were money and race.
“Baseball’s function is not to lead crusades,” said then MLB Commissioner Ford Frick in Jackie Robinson’s anthology, Baseball Has Done It. “(It’s) not to settle sociological problems, not to become involved in any sort of controversial racial or religious question… It’s not baseball’s function to crusade or point the finger at state laws…Baseball will go anywhere where we’re wanted. If we can’t take our Negro players into certain cities, our policy is to stay away. If this policy has been effective in desegregating these towns…it’s because they want baseball.”
While it still had a way to go, by 1963, baseball had moved in the right direction on the issue of race, ahead of the country in many ways. Baseball Has Done It captured that feeling of change from the players who integrated baseball. Among them were Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Frank Robinson. They were among a new crop of stars that changed the history of baseball.
“It’s going to be a while until we’re recognized as first-class citizens everywhere,” said Aaron in Baseball Has Done It. “It isn’t a case of us wanting more. It’s a case of us wanting the same, which is equality. I think President Kennedy and his brother Robert did a very good job in integrating a lot of places. They say he shouldn’t have sent troops into Alabama. Well, if it’s going to take troops to integrate Alabama, well, you got to have ‘em there. If it takes troops to put Meredith into the University of Mississippi and troops to put these kids through school in Alabama, well, that’s what the President should do. He should do anything to stop violence, like at that church where those girls were killed.”
As the Commissioner stated, baseball would not go where players and fans were segregated. President Johnson had yet to sign the two major pieces of civil rights legislation that changed race relations in America. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 has since been overturned by the Supreme Court. American jurisprudence is not portrayed in the best light when its petitioners have been baseball players seeking more freedom and equity.
More American: Freedom or Baseball?
Questions of money and control were overshadowed by baseball’s integration. The changing complexion of baseball and its growth in popularity camouflaged the deep economic and labor questions that continued to fester. Many young players were off fighting a war and wanted job security when they returned. Once they signed, individual teams owned the rights to players in perpetuity, unless they were traded, even after the war. In other words, a team could have a player as long as it wanted, until it didn’t. Greener pastures came at the whim of management. Larger market teams could stockpile players on dozens of minor league teams.
When Jackie Robinson was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Dodgers had 24 teams from Quebec to California. The Dodgers had two affiliates in Triple-A, Double-A, and Single-A. Hall of Fame Manager Dick Williams was an 18-year-old playing with Class C Santa Barbara in the California League. Only one player (who was 17) was younger. Curt Davis, on the other hand, aged 43, who won 158 games over 13 Major League seasons pitched with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints. Almost 3,000,000 people went to see 600 Dodger farm hands play 3281 games and take over 10,000 at-bats.
The unaffiliated, integrated Mexican League tried to challenge Major League Baseball and lure players with larger contracts. A few Major League players, most notably Sal Maglie, Danny Gardella, and Puerto Rican star Luis Olmo “jumped,” despite the reserve clause. Then MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended them for life. Gardella sued. At first, his case was thrown out citing the 1922 ruling against the Federal League that stated baseball was not engaged in interstate commerce. Rather than wax poetic about baseball, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his 1922 ruling that baseball exhibitions are between clubs in one location, and that travel is an element but not the essential element, as the clubs are in a free association; and thus they are “purely state affairs.”
The same august body that formulated the separate but equal doctrine, said that travel was not essential to Major League Baseball; and thus baseball was not subject to federal antitrust oversight. The 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act was signed into law by Benjamin Harrison, the first President to be spotted at a ballgame while in office. President Harrison saw Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, one of the first players to challenge the owners’ monopoly, hit a home run against the Washington Senators in June 1892.
In 1949, Gardella appealed. By then other unhappy players sought legal redress. Weary of public discourse, Commissioner Chandler, former Senator from Kentucky, threw Gardella some cash and reduced the suspensions to time served. The Mexican League folded. Happy Chandler handed the reigns to Frick, after seeking an indemnity against any future legal action. Vic Power, who signed with the Mexican League just before it folded, had his contract purchased by the Yankees in 1951.
That same year three minor league players filed lawsuits, including Eddie Toolson, stuck in the minors, against the Yankees. Minor leaguers all, each case challenged the structure of baseball and their ability to make a living and ply their services freely under the reserve clause. A team could trade them, but even if they languished in the minors, they were the property of their respective teams – until the teams deemed them expendable. Clubs held all the cards.
Reynolds, the Yankees player rep, (for what it was then worth) was asked about the reserve clause by Youth Wants to Know moderator Frank Blair: “That’s been quite a problem with us, this reserve clause,” said Reynolds. “I think it’s up for litigation, I’m not sure just what is going to happen, but I believe it will be decided on by the Supreme Court this year. There’s various thoughts both pro and con in the ranks of baseball.”
The next day, on October 5, 1953, Chief Justice Earl Warren was sworn in by President Eisenhower at the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees were six outs away from another World Championship when Allie Reynolds came in to relieve Whitey Ford to preserve the Yankees’ 3-1 lead in game six of the World Series. Robinson singled off his fellow presenter but was stranded. In the top of the ninth, with Duke Snider on base, Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo, right-handed, hit a ball the other way that would likely have caromed off the Schaefer scoreboard he knew so well while playing in front of it at Ebbets Field, into the right field bleachers to tie the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Billy Martin grounded a ball between rookie Jim Gilliam and Pee Wee Reese, into center field (with one out) to score Hank Bauer. The Yankees beat the Dodgers again to win the 1953 World Series. Reynolds, despite surrendering the lead, got the win.
Jackie had declared a day earlier: “I guess we can have a big argument on that from a lot of people saying where [Brooklyn’s] Carl [Furillo] is a better outfielder than Hank Bauer…,” and added, “Junior Gilliam played against [Power] and told me he’s a fairly good baseball player and he does have the ability. I think his options perhaps are just about up, and if they don’t bring him up, some other club can claim him. So, if he’s a good baseball player, they will either have to bring him up or some other club will claim him. So that’s why I say [the Yankees] are on the spot. And we will know what the dope is in a very short time.”
Ten days hence, on October 13, the new Warren Court heard oral arguments for Toolson v. Yankees. The Yankees announced they were promoting Vic Power and Elston Howard. The Daily News headline “Yankees Call Up 2 Negroes,” overshadowed news of baseball’s future being argued before the Supreme Court. The Warren Court would later change the landscape of America by dismantling segregation, but not the reserve clause. A month later, citing the Federal League ruling, Toolson lost his case 7-2. A strong dissent was written by Justice Reed who asserted that baseball was big business. As games began to be shown on national television (overseen, incidentally, by the Federal Communications Commission), the majority decision held even less merit.
Said Reynolds on Youth Wants to Know: “I think we better face it. I believe that Major League Baseball is classed as a sport, but in actuality, it is a big business.” Robinson expressed support for the reserve clause, but reiterated Reynolds’ view on Meet the Press, the grownup version, in 1957: “Baseball is as big a business as anything there is…It has to be a business, the way it is conducted.”
Robinson also supported the reserve clause while on Meet the Press, citing no viable alternative. In 1958, Jackie echoed his sentiments from a year earlier when he testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Monopolies which kept baseball’s antitrust exemption in place. He did advocate for bonuses unlike Bob Feller, however; and some change, in contrast to Casey Stengel’s purposefully evasive comedic sideshow.
Jackie had, however, correctly sized up Yankees brass. George Weiss and his team knew public relations. When 1954 came, Howard, who still had options, found himself back in the minors. Power thought he would find himself battling Bill “Moose” Skowron for first base in 1954. Instead, before another team could claim him, he was shipped to Philadelphia for Eddie Robinson. As Robinson said, the Yankees’ actions would reveal the straight dope. Power epitomized the exigency of race and money in baseball.
DETROIT, MI - JULY 4: George Strickland #4 and Vic Power #10 of the Cleveland Indians score as catcher Lou Berberet #11 of the Detroit Tigers looks on during an MLB game on July 4, 1959 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. The umpire is Bill Summers. (Photo by Hy Peskin/Getty Images)
Vic Pellot Power, who won six Gold Gloves at first base, languished for two years as an outfielder in Triple-A. Conceded Will “Dizzy” Dismukes, a former Negro League player and Yankee scout, who defended the Yankees to Wendell Smith in 1954: “All they are looking for is the Yankee type of player.” Howard, who Dismukes signed, became the first Black Yankee in 1955.
“People start telling me the Yankees don’t want me because I’m colored and they’re not ready for a colored player in Yankee Stadium,” Power recalled for Baseball Has Done It. “I start thinking about that. Then people start picketing the stadium and I get aware.”
The Yankees Triple-A team was in Kansas City. After Power was traded to the Athletics, they moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. Power’s wife, also from Puerto Rico, was light-skinned with red hair.
The optical illusion of Jackie Robinson sitting next to a White woman – the light-skinned Black wife of a Black officer – had been the incident that triggered Robinson’s court-martial. Yet minutes from the Yankee ballpark communities like Washington Heights were changing New York City’s demographics. Nevertheless, management thought that Power wasn’t Yankee material.
While in Kansas City, Power explained: “In Puerto Rico, we are all the same, white to black. We call each other Puerto Rican… My mother has a light complexion. My father was dark. In Kansas City, every time I take my wife to the ballpark, they see me with her, and they say, ‘Oh, there’s Vic Power with that white girl again,’ and then the writers go around the country saying ‘Power. He[s] no good. He goes after white girl[s].’”
Power was stopped multiple times by police. They looked past him and asked if his wife was ok. She told them “I live here.” Power was arrested for cursing a police officer on a team bus. His teammates collected money to bail him out on the spot. The team later took the $500 out of his salary.
Power didn’t have the cache of Jackie Robinson. Even though he wasn’t vocal, the press still labeled him a showboat and a clubhouse lawyer. Power brought the one-handed scoop to baseball. Robinson’s teammate Gil Hodges, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2021, and Power are still known as the two best fielding right-handed first-baseman of their era.
Said Doby in Baseball Has Done It: “This is a competitive world. The skills and talents of everyone are needed to keep it going. To make baseball stronger, to make the country stronger. The talents and skills of every American, regardless of color, should be used. Baseball was never truly an all-American game until we got into it. This will never be a truly American country until we can compete everywhere on equal terms.”
Aaron told Jackie that he read James Baldwin, who said Blacks have waited long enough: “We’ve been waiting all this time. My parents are waiting right now in Alabama, the Whites told my parents, ‘Wait, and things will get better.’ They told me, ‘Wait and things will get better.’ They’re telling these school kids, ‘Wait and it’ll be better,’” said Aaron. “We’re not going to wait any longer! We’re doing something about it. That’s what Baldwin says. He’s right.”
“You don’t want people to get killed when you fight, but you want people to respect you,” said Power. Then with the Twins, he told a story about Cuban teammate Camilo Pascual, also Latino but much more fair-skinned: “Camilo Pascual, he was sitting in this restaurant the other day. I walk in and try to be funny. I see the waitress and I pretend I am a stranger and don’t know Camilo. Sir, I say, Sir, can I integrate this table? Camilo looked at me like he never knew me and said ‘no. I don’t want you around.’ The waitress. She is scared. She turned white. Then Camilo laughed, and I laughed, and we sat and had a lot of fun. The waitress, she laughed too. It is the way we act in Puerto Rico. We laugh and not get mad. Why not so in the United States?”
“I’ve never received my due in publicity or money…a ballplayer felt it in his pocketbook when there was no National League team in New York, which is where the money is,” said Aaron in Baseball Has Done It: “There’s been improvement in baseball for the Negro player these last few years, but I still think a lot can be done. Take myself—I’d like to get the same treatment that the Mantles and Marises have gotten when I do as well as them. We have Mays and [Frank] Robinson and myself over here in the National League. When we do well, we don’t get the publicity and what goes with it like they do.”
After finishing second to Al Kaline in the American League, Power asked for a raise after 1955 but was told Kaline, who was White, was a more established player. Both were rookies in 1954. In 1963 he said: “I have no complaint except I don’t think I am paid what I would be if I was White.” He was traded six times and played for six teams. None of them were the Yankees. Power mentioned he was happy living and playing in Minnesota. The next season he was shipped to the Angels, sold to Phillies late in 1964, then back to the Angels before being released.
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 07: Baseball: Casual portrait of St, Louis Cardinals Curt Flood holding painting of Rev, Martin Luther King Jr, St, Louis, MO 8/7/1968 (Photo by Herb Scharfman/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Due Process and Precedent?
When Curt Flood was traded to Philadelphia after the 1969 season, he refused to report. Under the reserve clause, he had no choice, even after 14 seasons of Major League service time. Under current rules, which are now collectively bargained, Flood could’ve refused the trade. He would have been a “10-and-5 player,” ten years of service, five with one club. Instead, like Power, he had no control over his destiny. He also took his case to Federal Court. Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson were among the scant few to testify. So did franchise owner Bill Veeck. No current player was willing to testify on Flood’s behalf in the landmark case of Flood v. [then MLB Commissioner Bowie] Kuhn.
Black players in the fifties were reluctant to speak on matters of race, and Josh Gibson admitted on the History Channel’s “After Jackie,” that he had Flood’s back – in private. He had to look out for his job. Silence irked Jackie, who chided Willie Mays for not sharing his thoughts in Baseball Has Done It.
Robinson explained to the Court how second-tier players such as Don Zimmer, Eddie Miskis, and Don Hoak languished on the bench or among the plethora of Dodger affiliates with no control over their destiny or freedom to seek opportunities with other clubs. Robinson also detailed the circumstances of his trade to the New York Giants. Dodgers’ General Manager Buzzie Bavasi told him over the telephone. Hank Greenberg testified he was informed of his trade by telegram after playing his entire career in Detroit.
“My actual intentions at the time,” testified Robinson in 1970, “were to go with the Chock Full O’ Nuts organization simply because in my view a Black man had very little chance in organized baseball to go from the playing ranks to the front office…to the managerial role, regardless of whether he had any ability alone or not, and I had to protect my family as best as I possibly could.”
But Robinson mentioned such a lucrative financial offer from the Giants, that he considered changing his mind about retirement with the blessing of Bill Black, President of Chock, who urged Robinson to take the Giants’ offer. He considered playing until the prideful Robinson was accused of not playing in order to extract more money by Bavasi. In Robinson’s words, “[The statement] so angered me, that nothing would have kept me in baseball at that particular time.” Greenberg was motivated to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a similar fashion, which is how he crossed paths with Jackie in 1947.
So, Robinson, after almost being persuaded to play with the rival Giants, retired as he originally planned. Robinson intended to announce it in Look Magazine, where his comments after the 1954 season almost got him traded during the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series campaign. (When word of it leaked, Walter O’Malley had ordered Robinson traded.)
“Anything that is one-sided in this country is wrong. The reserve clause is one-sided in favor of the owners,” testified Robinson in New York’s Southern District Federal Court. “Whenever you have one-sided systems, it leads to serious problems…Unless there is a modification, I think there will be a serious strike by the players…pretty well fed up with the fact they now can no longer even elect the team that they want to play for, to start.”
The amateur draft had taken all control from the players. After the Southern District Judge, who admonished Jackie for emphasizing baseball is a business, citing earlier ruling, ruled against Flood, the case worked its way to the Supreme Court. Robinson’s comments about Baseball’s tumultuous labor future were prescient. Ford Frick’s comments on integration in Baseball Has Done It is as well:
“When I appeared before a Senate Subcommittee in 1963, I was asked to state that from our experience, it was evident that no integration legislation was needed. A senator asked me if I didn’t think the problem would solve itself. I said that no legislation is needed, provided you are dealing with men of good will. If those who face this problem are desirous of settling it, it can be done. But if they use an alibi, an excuse for doing nothing if those involved are not men of good will, then legislation is necessary.”
Curt Flood lost his case before the Supreme Court, but not on merit. The 1922 ruling, or the “antitrust exemption,” was again upheld. A universal change came at the expense of his career. Eventually, players gained more control over their destinies through collective bargaining. Remnants of the reserve clause still, however, survive, as players like Allie Reynolds and Jackie thought it would. The painful balance between players and owners and the big business of baseball continues to evolve. The latest work stoppage was this past offseason.
Flood gained a pyrrhic victory. Robinson continued his plea for Black representation in management at the 1972 All-Star Game just nine days before he died at 53, the year after he testified for Flood. Doby became the second Black manager in 1978. “The only way we can make baseball executives understand that we are qualified,” said Doby for Robinson’s book, “is to demand that we be given the chance to prove that we can lead as well as follow.”
Justice Harry Blackmun, citing precedent, wrote the majority opinion in Flood v. Kuhn, which began with a detailed history and something of a love letter, echoing the Federal Judge in New York, to baseball as a symbol of America. The full opinion acknowledges that baseball is a business but does not go so far as to supersede other landmark baseball cases. One year later Justice Blackmun cited due process when he delivered the majority opinion in the 1973 landmark case, Roe v. Wade.