Friday, December 11, 2015

Gibson, Flood...and Those Who Followed

I just finished reading this book by one of my baseball heroes, Bob Gibson.  The book is, as the title indicates, a pitch-by-pitch account of Gibson's performance in Game One of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, a game in which Gibson shut out the Tigers 4-0 and set a still standing record of 17 strike outs in a World Series game.

As great as Gibson was, and as great as that game was, a pitch-by-pitch account of any game can become somewhat stultifying after a couple of innings worth of description ("with a 1-2 count on Freehan, I thought that a back door slider would be just the thing" get the idea).  Still, the book is worthwhile because it is, after all BOB GIBSON telling the story, and his comments about his teammates on the Cardinals, his Tigers opponents (like Denny McLain), and his contemporary players  (Koufax, Aaron, Stargell etc) are interesting and worth reading.

Gibson facing Norm Cash in Game One

I was particularly interested in Gibson's narrative about his teammate and roommate, Curt Flood.  He tells the story of Flood's refusal to accept a trade of him by the Cardinals to the Phillies after the 1969 season, the lawsuit that followed, the trip to the Supreme Court, Flood's checkered life that followed his baseball life, which included alcoholism, and death at age 59 from throat cancer (Jesse Jackson gave his eulogy).  

Let me let Gibson tell the story:

"Curt's story was tragic, in the personal sense, but it was also essential on a level that makes him both historic and heroic. It set the narrative for the punishing process that had to occur in the interest of progress. Somebody had to take the brunt of it.  Somebody, in effect, had to martyr himself, and Curt was the guy.  He fully understood the ramifications of what he was doing.

"The greater tragedy, to me, is that so many of the modern players who have benefited from Curt's sacrifice have no idea what he went through or even who he was.  The fact is, while Curt lost his case and his career and the life in which he'd flourished, the players who came after him won and won big."

I just wonder if the guys who struck it big in MLB this past week, guys like David Price, Zach Grienke, and, yes, even Neil Walker, will pause for a moment and give thanks to the memory of Curt Flood.

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