Monday, April 21, 2008

Curt Flood Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

As happens from time to time, someone -- specifically, New York Times writer William Rhoden -- is lobbying for Curt Flood to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. As is normally the case, the basis of Flood's induction is not his playing career as much as it is his undeniably central role in ushering in the free agency era:

Flood, who died in 1997 at age 59 from throat cancer, was one of the best center fielders of his era. After the 1969 season, he refused to accept a trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia. Guided by Marvin Miller, the first head of the Players Association and ultimately backed by the union, the case was heard by the Supreme Court. Flood lost the case, but his stance emboldened other players to fight a successful battle for free agency . . .

. . . Flood had a 15-year career as a major league baseball player, but only three years on the Hall of Fame ballot. After 1979, Flood’s name was not on the ballot, and his candidacy fell to the Veterans Committee. Thirty years ago, Flood was a casualty of a conservative sports news media that often sided, or at least identified, with management. Today? Ignorance or contempt?
I love Flood as much as the next guy, but does his exclusion from the Hall -- actually, just the plaque room, as his contributions to the game have been well-documented elsewhere in the museum -- require "ignorance and contempt?"

Of course it doesn't, because for as large a figure as he looms in the annals of labor relations, Curt Flood the player was simply not a Hall of Famer.

Wait, Craig . . .you're not going to . . oh, c'mon, it's Monday, we're tired and we don't have the patience for . . .

Yep! It's time for a Keltner list!

Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No, never, and anyone who said so would be full of beans.

Was he the best player on his team?

Again, no. Bob Gibson was certainly better. Defensively he was without peer, but depending on which year you look at, guys like Lou Brock, Ken Boyer, Bill White and even Tim McCarver had better years at the plate than Flood did. I'd give him best non-Gibson player for a couple of seasons based on his defensive, but it's not a runaway.

Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

The SI cover story to the upper right said he was, but given the fact that Willie Mays was still roaming the Earth at the time, I'd consider that to be some harmless hyperbole in the service of a feature story.

Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

The Cardinals won the pennant three times with Flood manning center, and came in second in 1963, so I'd say yes. His numbers in the World Series -- then the only postseason games there were -- were pretty terrible, however (.286/.333/.321).

Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

No, he was essentially done at age 31. Obviously his sitting out 1970 harmed him, but a lot of guys have sat out a single year and came back to be productive. Flood only had 48 ineffective plate appearances left in the tank.

Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Ron Santo, Alan Trammell, and Bert Blyleven say no. Others would argue that guys like Minnie Minoso, Gil Hodges, and Dale Murphy belonged before Flood as well. There are many others, actually.

Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No. In fact, none of his top 10 most similar batters are ever considered to be Hall of Fame candidates, and that list includes a glove guy -- Garry Maddox -- as good if not better than Flood was purported to be.

Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Nowhere close. Even with the seven gold gloves, Flood's offensive production -- 1800+ hits and 85 homers -- aren't anywhere near the standards the Hall of Fame usually requires.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Not really. If anything, his base running -- which, while actually chronicled in the statistics often goes ignored in these conversations -- brings him down a peg, as Flood was caught stealing on 45% of his career attempts.

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

No. I'd put Murphy and Jimmy Wynn ahead of him. If you expand it to all outfielders I'd argue that Dwight Evans, Minnie Minoso, Albert Belle, and -- shock -- Jim Rice have better cases than Flood.

How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

No MVPs and no seasons that you would immediately identify as an MVP-caliber season. He broke the top ten in balloting once (1968) but actually had a better season the year he finished 13th (1967).

How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

He was a three-time All-Star, though he had a handful of other seasons when he wouldn't have been out of place on an All Star team.

If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

I have a hard time seeing it. Indeed, it's reasonable to figure that a guy like Flood -- high average hitter and a stellar defender -- would be most valuable in a low run-scoring environment. Well, the lowest run-scoring environment in modern times was 1968. Flood was certainly not his team's best player that year. Bob Gibson was. If you took Gibson off that team and replaced him with an average starter, well, my guess is that the World Series may very well have been Giants-Tigers.

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Though it's hard to say how much of Flood's legacy is colored by his status as a trailblazer as opposed to his day-to-day sportsmanship and character, I have no reason to believe that he did anything but uphold high standards in this regard. He's spoken of well, and even after raising a labor ruckus, he found employment within the game, which speaks of a guy who was basically well-liked and respected.

What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Obviously Flood is off the charts here. Indeed, after Jackie Robinson,* I'm not sure I can think of anyone who gets more credit for this item. But really, that's his whole case, and we wouldn't be having this conversation if Curt Flood reported to spring training with the Phillies in 1970. Rhoden and others who make the Flood case obviously know this, and to their credit, they don't pretend for a second that Flood's on-field performance amounts to a Hall of Fame career.

But in my mind, neither do the off-the-field accomplishments. Yes, Flood was a trailblazer, but Marvin Miller -- a man who does belong in the Hall of Fame -- would have found another willing plaintiff eventually (as he did in Messersmith and McNally). This doesn't take away from what Flood did as a litigant, but it certainly doesn't elevate his accomplishment to Hall-worthy proportions.

*Not that the Jackie Robinson comparison is particularly helpful to Flood. For one thing, Robinson's on-the-field case was far more compelling than Flood's ever was. For another, the racial barrier in 1947 was far more significant than the labor barrier in 1970.

More ShysterBall!


Anonymous said...

I just don't see the argument for Flood. He didn't usher in the modern labor / management balance. That was Miller, Messersmith, and Seitz. Flood argued that the reserve clause was illegal. The Messersmith arbitration decision and subsequent enforcement through the Courts, Lockouts, and Strikes, was on a different issue - not that it was illegal, but that it was limited contractually to one year.

Want to enshrine an on-field figure for leading the way to free agency? Why not Andy Messersmith? For the two year period '74-'75, he arguably was the best pitcher in the NL (finishing 1 & 2 in IP, 2 & 5 in ERA, and 1 and 3 in wins) And his role, unlike Flood's, did not lead to a legal deadend.

Of course Messersmith doesn't belong. But he is as deserving as Flood, if not more so.

64cardinals said...

If Flood goes in for the changes he brought about, and not his playing, then people will start clamoring for Miler to go in. And then Fehr. Neither one belong.

If they really feel the need to do it, create a Curt Flood award for those players that did something to change the game. But no plaque.

'cause if Buck O'Neil isn't good enough to get in for all he did, then neither should any of the goes who are known for labor issues.

Alex said...

Shyster, you should write more of these. If you have already written several, could you point me to them in the archive?

Roger Moore said...

If you really want to point to a player who was the key turning point in free agency, you could do a lot worse than Catfish Hunter. Hunter actually succeeded in getting himself made a free agent. His enormous payday- by far the largest contract in baseball history when he signed it- did more to convince the players of the value of free agency than Flood's unsuccessful challenge.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Alex -- Glad you liked it. There are a lot of Keltner lists floating around the web, though, and many are far more rigorous than mine. Of course, when the occasion calls for it, I'll whip one out again.

Anonymous said...

Not that I'm all hot for Flood to get into the HoF, which really isn't an honor of much import but rather a reason to demean those whose opinions of "value" you disagree with (putting Kuhn in the HoF finished making it the distateful joke it has been headed toward for two decades), but your post represents the most casual ugliness that now dominates most baseball "discussion" and the other people who post here drag it to the bottom of the baseball-talk sewer.

Enough. I will not be back. Enjoy the circle jerk, though. Really.

Marcel said...


Que? I don't understand run-on sentences.

Craig Calcaterra said...

anon -- Not sure what's "ugly" about the post, but hey, to each their own.

Joey said...

Someone shouldn't be running on caffeine at 2 a.m. (not that I haven't done it plenty) and then go on to read "discussion" material and find it horribly offensive. Hopefully he's getting some sleep now and will wake up with a reasonable head. Otherwise, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out (or the blog equivalent)

64cardinals said...

Okay, everyone all together -

Kumbaya, my Lord, Kymbaya ....

dubbschism said...

i think it might have been Dale Petroskey.

Mac said...

So, I thought, "Maybe Craig should compare Flood to his most-similar players through Age 30, maybe he'll look better that way." No dice. Only two of those listed, Bell and Buckner, could be called even marginal HOF candidates, and that's stretching it. Flood has advantages over them, of course -- defense -- and he had his prime in a pitcher-friendly period, but he just wasn't anything special as a hitter. Would you put Andruw Jones in the Hall if he retired today? Andruw is -- well, was -- a much better hitter than Flood was, and defensively...

Craig Calcaterra said...

Mac -- Though I think he'd have a better argument than Flood, I think if Andruw didn't play another game then no, he's not a hall of famer. As much as I've enjoyed him over the years, the peak, in my mind, was not high enough to sustain the relatively short duration of his career. While I think counting stats can be overrated, they do indicate value, and Jones just isn't there yet.

Thinking of it another way, I -- as you -- have watched him for 13 seasons now, and I can't say I've ever sat back and said "you know, Andruw's a Hall of Famer!" I HAVE said "you know, Andruw will probably go to the Hall of Fame," but that was based on the implicit assumption that he'd hit 500 home runs or something due to his durability and early start.

If,as I fear, he's truly falling off a cliff now, then I think it's a no go. If he rights the ship and puts up another five years of 25+ homers, then yes, I can totally see it.

Crawdaddy said...

Weird. I can only imagine that the poster subscribes to the erroneous theory that "fame" means famous in that context.

Yeah, I guess that is why I require people to sign into Google before they can comment. Of course, this is all academic as no one reads my site.

Aquaman said...

We found room in the Hall for Phil Rizzuto, and should've found room for Buck O'Neil. Curt Flood deserves a spot in Cooperstown alongside those two men. There's nothing wrong with bending standards a bit to make room for good players who made a great impact on the game.

Craig Calcaterra said...

I understand that view, Aquaman, and there are certainly varying definitions of what constitutes a "Hall of Famer." I probably fall on the side -- ever so slightly -- of a more selective Hall, and I'm not sure that I would have included Rizzuto, even if I understand why he was elected and why people feel it was the right call.

That said, even under my own slightly stringent standards, both Rizutto and O'Neil have stronger Hall cases than Flood. Rizutto at least won an MVP award, and scores slightly higher on the Hall Monitor and Standards tests (for whatever that's worth).

Even if you discount O'Neil's on the field accomplishments (which I have no basis for doing; I simply don't know enough about them), the fact remains that his "intangible contributions" to use Rhoden's term, was greater than Flood's, both as a trailblazing scout and coach, and as an ambassador for the game through his work with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

These are obviously subjective calls, but then again, so are the actual BBWAA votes.