The HBO documentary “The Curious Case Of Curt Flood” (premiering tomorrow night), recalls the struggles of the former Cardinals OF who gave up his peak earning years to smash baseball’s reserve clause, yet strikes the Philadelphia Daily News’ Stan Hochman as an incomplete picture. “The most curious aspect of the documentary,” writes Hochman — interviewed for the film, but never shown or quoted — “is the emphasis on Flood’s flaws.”
The courageous athlete who dared to challenge an unfair system is depicted as an alcoholic, a womanizer, a woeful husband, a dreadful father, a lousy businessman and a fraud who never really painted those portraits he churned out that enhanced his image as an artist. And, oh yes, he was a chain smoker who died of throat cancer. In the history of warts-and-all biographies, this one slithers near the top of the list.
(First, this disclaimer. I was interviewed for over an hour by the writer and nothing I said appears in the film, even though I had tracked Flood down at the bar he owned in Majorca to get him on the record about his motives for rejecting the trade.
Philadelphia winds up dodging a bullet, because while the conservatives screeched about comparisons to slavery, the liberals ranted about his dread of coming to a racist city, and none of this is mentioned in the film.)
The filmmakers spare us the weary charade of polling current players, asking them to identify Flood and his place in baseball history. They remind the viewers that Flood lost in the courtrooms, and that it wasn’t until 4 years later, when Miller had written arbitration into the basic agreement, that players became free at last.
An arbitrator ruled that Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith were free agents after playing out their contracts. The economics of baseball were changed forever.
Flood had sacrificed his career and ultimately his health, in pursuit of that same dream. He deserves a better tribute than this cynical documentary.