Few people have the special expertise required to write the life of Curt
Flood because much of Flood’s historical import comes from his
lawsuit’s prominence and his complex personality. Flood’s biographer
needs legal expertise to understand and represent his court case properly
and he should have the critical honesty to portray Flood as a highly
courageous yet deeply flawed person. Brad Snyder’s biography of Flood, A
Well Paid Slave does this with dexterity and honesty.
Snyder shows himself to be consistently adept at narrating and
explaining the legal aspects of Flood’s case. He efficiently explains
legal terms, the import of certain historical cases, the way that the
legal system worked at various stages of the trial, and the importance of
certain judges’ and lawyers’ temperaments and abilities. He does an
outstanding job, for example, of clearly defining the background
importance of the selection of Irving Ben Cooper as the judge in the first
round of Flood’s case. There are other such examples, all of which are
well-narrated due to Snyder’s legal expertise.
Any one of Arthur
Goldberg's appointments in the 1960s would
have been a crowning achievement to a
glorious career. He was appointed Secretary
of Labor by JFK, who subsequently nominated
him to the Supreme Court. LBJ later
convinced him to resign from the Court to
become Ambassador to the United Nations.
After clashing with LBJ over the Vietnam
War, he resigned that post too.
Simultaneously engaged in the Flood case and
an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to
unseat Governor Nelson Rockerfeller of New
York, Brad Snyder suggests Goldberg was ill
prepared to represent Flood.
Snyder argues that Flood’s unsuccessful legal campaign started poorly
because his lawyer, Arthur Goldberg, was ill prepared for trial. He says
that because Goldberg was simultaneously running for governor of New York,
he dedicated insufficient time to prepare himself and Flood for the case.
While Alex Belth’s biography of Flood, Stepping
Up, contends that “Flood’s lawyers had no doubt rehearsed him in
the finer points of testifying,” Snyder proves the opposite: that Flood
was completely unprepared and that Goldberg was largely at fault for that
lack of preparation. This simple revision is enough to show how welcome a
quality biography of Curt Flood is, and how easily we fill in the blanks
Snyder, however, takes nothing for granted. His research is
irreproachable: he cites 77 newspapers, 158 interviewees, 20 unpublished
sources, and I don’t know how many books. Where did he find the time?
That’s simple: he quit his job as a lawyer. His dedication shows through
in every page; I sensed that he has considered every angle, asked every
question, and prepared Flood’s biography the way that a trial lawyer
might prepare a case.
Because of this intense and meticulous preparation, some of the writing
is correspondingly dense—engaging and terrific, but dense. Consequently,
baseball readers should be aware that part of the book is a very detailed
look at the Supreme Court’s decision against Flood. Snyder goes into
sometimes excruciating detail about the nuances of the case, the process
that led to the decision, and the behind-the-scenes machinations of the
justices. This is not to say that Snyder should not have done so—such an
analysis was necessary and reading it is rewarding; but the cost of
explaining the case completely is that the reading is occasionally hard
One result of this careful analysis is that Snyder concludes that Curt
Flood lost not only because his main lawyer was unprepared, but because
more than one Supreme Court Justice acted like a kid staring up at Babe
Ruth when given the chance to save baseball. This part of the book reads
like part mystery and part legal primer. It is excellent and I have never
read anything quite comparable.
The book is not dedicated entirely to Flood’s court case. The seventh
chapter, for example, contains good research into contemporary reactions
to Flood’s decision to sue Major League Baseball. Snyder relates how
sportswriters such as Red Smith, Bob Broeg, Bob Burnes, and Jim Murray
took stances varying from outrage to empathy. Those who opposed his
decision attacked Flood because they believed that he was Marvin Miller’s
puppet, because they thought that he was acting out of greed, or because
they thought that he should have been grateful to earn $90,000 per year.
Fellow players, fans, and owners attacked as well, often not
understanding, Snyder argues, the real issues at stake or Flood’s true
motives. In the end, while correctly depicting Flood’s incapacitating
flaws, Snyder demonstrates that Flood was a hero, and that few had the
moral fortitude to do what he did.
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