On the Phone With…Shelly Flood
By Todd Coppernoll – April 27, 2012
Last night, I had a phone conversation with Shelly Flood, who is the daughter of Curt Flood, who played baseball for the St Louis Cardinals, and played hardball for the rights of the players on all teams.
On the field, Curt Flood was a star, winning seven Gold Gloves, and playing on three World Series teams. Off the field, Curt Flood sued baseball after having been traded by the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood took his case all the way to the US Supreme Court, and even though he lost, his lawsuit became a catalyst which led eventually to free agency rights for veteran major league ballplayers.
I told Shelly it’s not a stretch to consider her father one of the three most significant ballplayers of the 20th Century, in this regard…Babe Ruth changed the way the game was played, Jackie Robinson changed who was allowed to play, and Curt Flood changed the relationship between players and team owners in ways that are still evolving to this day.
Here’s what Shelly had to say…
SF: “Todd, my dad, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson all came out of Oakland, and all three signed with the Reds, for nominal money. The Reds didn’t realize what they had, and they traded Dad to the Cardinals, and that’s honestly where the whole thing started for him, that first trade really ticked him off. He didn’t like the fact that the team could just trade you somewhere else, and there was nothing you could say about it.”
BitB: So, your Dad had this issue on his mind long before the trade that sparked the lawsuit?
SF: “Yes, Todd, look around the world, even today. Look at all the chaos that exists, with wars, famine, children becoming soldiers in some countries, all of that, my father was aware of all of it. My father was a humanitarian; he was about civil rights, justice, and staying in the fight. That first trade really started it – it made him mad that they could just do that to a man, just say ‘you’re traded’, and there was nothing you could do but go along with it.”
BitB: Your dad was obviously a man of conviction, but there was clearly a downside to his decision too. In your own words, Shelly, how would you say the lawsuit affected your dad’s career, and how did it affect him personally.
SF: “It essentially ended his career. Personally, Dad was exhausted, heartbroken, and betrayed. If you look at the man in two parts, the flesh, and the spirit, he was spiritually satisfied, the spirit understood why he had done it, and in that way he knew he was right. Physically, he was worn down, and betrayed. It took years for Dad to get his energy back from that.”
BitB: That must have been tough on all of you…
SF: “I really didn’t understand all of it at the time. In those days, the history and the impact of what he’d done wasn’t recorded the way it is now. It’s only in the last ten years or so that Dad’s story has really gotten the attention that it deserves. I was an adult before I realized a lot of these things. One thing that was kind of jacked-up was, we only got to see Dad play the Dodgers, we would go to Dodger Stadium and watch the Cardinals play, but we never went to see him in St Louis. That’s probably why I love the Giants, because Dad played here against LA, so I never learned to root for the Dodgers.
In 2007 we all went to St Louis, so keep in mind, I was 46, and this was the first time I went to St Louis to see things there. When we walked into the Marriott Hotel, there was a floor-to-ceiling picture of my dad right there. I looked at that and my eyes got big, I hadn’t realized how loved and well-remembered my dad was in St Louis until that time. We went around the social scene there, and people were telling us all these stories about Dad, and I realized right then that there was a lot I had never fully understood. I want to thank the people of St Louis for that – I was really touched by it.”
BitB: How did that change your view of things?
SF: “The first time I read anything about what Dad had done, I was in 6th grade, and I saw it in a history book…it was three sentences. Now, in recent years, people are always telling us how important Dad was, and what a brave thing he did. There’s an HBO Documentary now, there’s a Facebook page called ‘Put Curt Flood in the Hall of Fame’, the page has over 3,000 members now and it’s growing fast. All of this has given me a self-realization, its been good for me, its helped me connect to all of this much better, because the information is out there now, and it’s reported a lot better than it was when all of this was happening.”
BitB: Did any of you inherit those traits from your Dad, that spirit to improve things in the world?
SF: “Thank you for asking that, yes, all of us did. We’ve started a non-profit here in LA, called, ‘Center Field for Youth.’ We work with inner-city kids in South Central. These kids are high-risk kids, who face a lot of unique challenges as they grow up.”
BitB: What are the issues these kids face?
SF: “These kids are born into a chaotic environment, and the connections aren’t there a lot of times to show them the way, and to intervene and provide structure. It’s easy to just look away, but that’s the worst thing we could all do. We’re all connected in the world, Dad always said, ‘You have to take responsibility for everything you do, or everything falls apart.’ That’s what this is all about, it’s about not leaving people behind, because we’re all people, if no one helps these inner-city kids get some foundation and get connected to the system, it hurts all of us.”
BitB: I heard your father’s spirit right there, for sure, the spirit in your voice when you said that was very powerful.
SF: “I am Curt Flood’s daughter, my siblings and I are the children of Curt Flood, and we’re proud of that.”
BitB: You’ve got the Center Field For Youth off the ground, what happens next?
SF: “We’re working for more connections, and more awareness. People tell me all the time, ‘Every free agent contract that gets signed, those players should thank your family and give you something’, people always say it, but no one has ever done it. This is not about wealth or the spotlight, this is about the respect my father earned, and the legacy my generation, and the future generations will carry on. We need more connections so we can help these kids with things like drug prevention, gang intervention, and the proper tools to stay in school and build their lives. Things CAN be changed, and we’re working for that, with the same spirit our father had.”
BitB: Tell me more about what the kids you work with are living with? I grew up in a town of 5,000 people in Wisconsin. Not only did I have both of my parents there, but all four grandparents lived within two miles of us when I was a kid. South Central LA is a completely different world.
SF: “My answer to that is, ‘I shouldn’t have to tell you, you live in the world the same as I do.’ These are kids who are really disenfranchised, I mean, disenfranchised from everything, their youth, the community, destiny, just everything. This is about providing these kids with a foundation, and with the opportunity to connect and build their lives.”
BitB: What can be done to help you with this?
SF: “Spread the word. We need more connections out there, that’s the whole thing.”
BitB: With all things considered, are you still baseball fans?
SF: “Oh, absolutely. The whole family loves baseball. My two brothers were baseball prodigies when they were kids; I think that’s the best way to say it. Every spring they were at spring training in St Pete, and they played ball, they were good players. You should hear how people talk about Dad back in Oakland, they tell me Dad was a better center fielder than Willie Mays…and they mean it! Our family and friends still love baseball. I have a grandson now, he’s 10-months-old, when he was literally less than a minute old I said to him, ‘You know you’re going to play baseball, right?’”
BitB: Shelly, what would you like people to know about your Dad?
SF: “My father was very diplomatic, he always had an answer, and he knew what to say. He had charisma, there was an energy about him…he was amazing.”
BitB: What would you like to say about his legacy, and the work his children are now doing?
SF: “Everything has its perfect moment; everything has a time and place. Things are moving, things are changing, it’s a new time coming, I think we’ll be able to make a difference and help people.”
BitB: Shelly, your father gave you a gift that you may not be fully aware of…something that can’t be bought, and can never be taken away. You have your father’s spirit – everything you’ve said to me tonight has been said with passion and conviction, like you’re locked on to what you need to do. I never knew your dad, but you certainly sound like the daughter of a man who would stand up for what he thought was right, even in the face of great criticism.
SF: (long pause) “Todd, you just blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to hear that, thank you. I’m proud of my father, and it’s good to know his spirit comes through me.”