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A Well-Paid Slave

By Dr. John D. Eigenauer
November 10, 2006

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.

Goldberg

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 of history.

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 work.

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.

 

John Eigenauer can be contacted at jeigenauer@yahoo.com. A complete list of his reviews and more about him can be found here.

Book Details
Book Title: A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports
Author(s): Brad Snyder
Other Editions:
Published: October 5, 2006
Publisher: Viking
Reviewed by: Dr. John D. Eigenauer


 
 
 


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