SBJ/July 11-17, 2011/Media

HBO tells Flood’s tale well in documentary

Many casual fans and even some MLB players are either unaware of Curt Flood or incorrectly believe he toppled baseball’s long-established reserve clause and introduced free agency to the sport. HBO Sports seeks to correct that with “The Curious Case of Curt Flood,” a 90-minute documentary premiering Wednesday that explores the complex, historically important Flood.

An all-star outfielder for St. Louis in the 1960s, Flood challenged the reserve clause after an unwanted trade to Philadelphia and took MLB to court. He ultimately lost before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, but the case helped galvanize the MLB Players Association in its fight for impartial arbitration and free agency. By late 1975, the union had prevailed in its push, and free agency quickly changed the face of baseball.

Flood was soon left as a historical footnote as seven-figure salaries and high-stakes collective bargaining became norms. Following the HBO Sports documentary playbook, the network carefully chronicles the often tragic, sometimes triumphant, life of Flood, who died in 1997 after a battle with throat cancer.

Rather than dive into the legal twists and turns of Flood v. Kuhn, the documentary takes a wider view of Flood’s life. Extensive segments cover Flood’s battles with racism, alcoholism, insolvency and family turmoil — all elements that helped harden his nerve to battle baseball’s establishment.

ALBERT COQUERAN
Curt Flood’s widow, Judy Pace Flood, attends the New York City premiere of “The Curious Case of Curt Flood” on June 29 with former Cardinal and current MLB executive Joe Torre (center) and HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg.
By producing the film now, HBO was able to interview 94-year-old Marvin Miller, the influential former executive director of the MLBPA, the one who warned Flood that taking on baseball would be “a million-to-one shot.” HBO artfully blends interviews with Miller; Flood’s widow, Judy Pace Flood; and others, with vintage footage of Flood himself.

Intimidating and often reclusive hall of famer Bob Gibson, Flood’s teammate and close friend, comes across as open and candid. “Was I was behind Curt? Yes, but about 10 steps behind,” Gibson concedes. “There was some fallout.”

HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg calls “The Curious Case of Curt Flood” “one of the most important documentaries we’ve ever done. I always felt this story needed to be told.”

In a business often full of hyperbole, Greenburg’s statements, as well as the film itself, are thankfully devoid of it.

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