left, Curt Flood
raps one on the cover
of the new book by
right, Buck O'Neil
in his old Negro
who aren't Hall of Famers
By MAURY ALLEN
Sometimes people grow too tall to be airplane
pilots or remain too short to be basketball players. Sometimes
people grow too fat to fit comfortably into their seats at the
ball park or theater. Or they grow too thin to be heavyweight
Sometimes people dont get the honors in life they truly
deserve. Just make a list of the famous writers, artists, scientists
and peacemakers who fail to win the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer
Prize or the MacArthur Prize.
This is the tale of two Hall of Famers who arent.
Curt Flood died of throat cancer in 1997 and Alex Belth has captured
his life in a warm, wonderful biography of Flood called "Stepping
Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball
Players Rights" (Persea Books, $22.95). He was 59
years old when he died.
Buck ONeil died of a broken heart on October 6, 2006. He
was 94, a victim of American segregation and racism in his early
life and a victim of pettiness at the end.
Flood had a sparkling 15-year big league career, hit .293 for
his lifetime average, was an exceptional fielder and starred
on three St. Louis Cardinals World Series teams in 1964, 1967
He was a talented painter, a serious reader and a dedicated teammate.
He is the Abraham Lincoln of baseball players. He freed the salary
slaves with his historic challenge to baseballs reserve
He died a broken man because he never received the recognition
he deserved, financially or emotionally. He deserves Hall of
Fame honors for his revolutionary moves against the status quo.
Players of today, making millions of dollars for throwing, catching
and hitting baseballs, hardly know his name.
Victory has a thousand fathers, John F. Kennedy once
said, and defeat is an orphan.
Flood lost his case in the Supreme Court, a gutless court which
technically refused to rule on the reserve clause and suggested
it be considered again in a lower court. It was in that finest
Supreme Court tradition that another court refused to order a
presidential ballot recount in the State of Florida in 2000.
Where was John Jay when we needed him?
Flood suffered all of the traditional abuse allowed in America
for people of color in the late 1940s and 1950s as he began his
baseball playing career.
He was held back for advancement for his color, forced to accept
southern subjugation as he played minor league baseball, advanced
slowly by managerial whim and bonded aggressively with other
minority players, Bill White, Bob Gibson and George Crowe, in
bringing the game some equality a dozen years after the arrival
of Jackie Robinson on a big league field.
Buck ONeil could only play Negro League baseball because
gutless politicians would not challenge the forced status quo
of the game, a Judge Kenesaw Landis decision during his Commissioner
tour of duty.
He accepted the verdict with good humor and excelled in the black
baseball leagues where he played with such legendary figures
of that game as Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson,
Monte Irvin, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron, all future Hall of Famers.
He became a scout for the Chicago Cubs after baseball was integrated
and was even named a coach by the Cubs. Ironically, he was never
a coach on the field in those shaky days just after the Robinson
integration. He signed a future Hall of Famer named Lou Brock
for the Cubs.
ONeil was a great story teller, a man without bitterness,
a legend in his own time, for the tales he told of baseball in
the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s in segregated America.
Ken Burns put ONeil into his PBS documentary "Baseball"
in 1994 and ONeil bragged about being an overnight
sensation at the age of 82.
Last summer he stole the show at the Hall of Fame induction in
Cooperstown when he introduced Jackie Robinsons widow,
Rachel, and spoke humorously of the other 17 Negro League players
and executives who finally were elected to baseballs hallowed
halls in Cooperstown, New York.
He, himself, missed out on election by one vote of the screening
committee. In speaking with committee members none would admit
they voted against him. Some suggested he got enough attention
from the Burns documentary and from public acclaim that he didnt
need Hall of Fame acceptance.
Everyone, from a new born babe to a century old farmer, needs
recognition. It may be one of the most vital of human traits.
Try avoiding the pre-school scribblings of your grandchildren.
Theres Oprah Winfrey and her billions and Colin Powell
and his medals. There are few racial barriers in todays
games of sports, entertainment, pop culture and art.
Still, it is simply easier to be white in America.
I knew Curt Flood and Buck ONeil. I know they would have
left this mortal coil a lot happier if they had Hall of Fame
rings to leave behind for friends, family and history.
©2006 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen
caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted
Oct. 16, 2006. The book cover reproduction is courtesy of Persea
can comment on this column online. Please address your message
to either "The Editors" or Maury Allen. To send an
email, click here and don't forget to mention Maury's name: firstname.lastname@example.org