OVERTHROWN: CURT FLOOD, JIM BOUTON, AND BASEBALL’S FREE AGENCY REVOLUTION
Baseball is not only the national pastime, but also a business and a workplace. After a century of the reserve system, players finally secured the right to become free agents and negotiate contracts in 1975. This thesis examines the influence of Curt Flood and Jim Bouton on the labor struggle in professional baseball in the long 1960s, directed by the inquiry “How were Curt Flood and Jim Bouton’s rebel narratives related in their challenges to the baseball establishment in the early 1970s?” This study relies on archival research conducted at the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, analysis and comparison of Ball Four, by Jim Bouton, and The Way It Is, by Curt Flood, and interviews conducted both by the author and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). I conclude that the combined effects of Curt Flood and Jim Bouton’s personal narratives advanced the fight for free agency because they were able to inspire empathy among and for baseball players as employees treated unfairly by owners. This is the first work that compares Flood and Bouton extensively, and argues that the two stories ought to be considered together to understand the state of baseball in the long 1960s. Players were suppressed through formal means, such as the reserve clause, but also by “unspoken codes” that dictated appropriate behavior. Baseball’s relationship with the US Supreme Court determined the course of baseball expansion, which delayed the realization of free agency. The rise and fall of the black activist athlete complicated progress in American athletics in the long 1960s. Bouton and Flood were the first to present narratives that illustrated how difficult it was to make a living as a baseball player with overt political messages that called on the readers to find it in their humanity to empathize with the struggle of the players as men. By understanding how these stories confirmed one another’s accounts, unfolded at the same moment in American history, the role of race in society and baseball, and the success of the fight for free agency, it is clear that Flood and Bouton made significant progress by presenting their narratives.
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