Juneteenth: From Curt Flood to A-Rod

Jose Vilson Jose

Juneteenth: for many African-Americans in this country, this is the true day to celebrate the emancipation of slavery. Though the Emancipation Proclamation came out late September of 1862, it really didn’t free the slaves per se. From what I’ve read, slaves in the North were still beholden to their slave-owners, and it didn’t have much of an effect on the slaves of the day anyways. Juneteenth celebrates Texas’ (and eventually most of the union’s states) enforcement of the abolition of slavery.

When I think about that, I think back to an original post I wrote about the Holocaust and the Maa’fa, and the various (and disparate) opinions on whether these tragedies could even be compared to each other. I also thought about the systematic implications it meant for the groups that it primarily affected negatively. And lastly, believe it or not, I thought about baseball, and the argument that Curt Flood brought up when he filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball.

See, Curt Flood was a pivotal figure in MLB, and the one man everyone points to when they look at baseball’s free agent market today. In 1969, he was almost traded away from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, an offer he didn’t feel like accepting. Actually, he stated that not only was he going to look at the Phillies’ “offer,” but look at what other teams have to offer for his services as well, thus setting the language for what we consider as free agency this day. He strongly compared the reserve clause, which made sure the team that first gave you an offer to play baseball kept you in their stable forever even after your contract has ended, to slavery, which in this country kept getting more technical as slaves became more creative with their rebellion.

His eventual loss of the lawsuit to MLB forced the baseball players to bond together and fight the reserve clause, thus opening the era for free agency. Fast-forward to today, and baseball players enjoy 6 digit salaries at minimum. The highest paid player in any major professional sport happens to be a Dominican man who makes close to $300 million, not including endorsements, hedge funds, and other investments. Alex Rodriguez has got it made.

But while that Dominican man’s making that kind of money, there are whole blocks in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood, whose combined salary doesn’t even match what he gets a year. Tons of poor Latinos can only wish to have his success, luck, and fortunes. We all know this. What we often don’t ask ourselves is, if A-Rod’s making that type of money, imagine how much money the people paying him make. I mean, whatever the baseball player’s making, it’s got to be a small percentage of what the boss makes off his image and his and the other players’ play.

To this day, we still blame other workers for whatever change the next boss makes. People still get mad at teachers for having pensions, tenure, and summer vacations, but never ask why they’ve never demanded that of their own bosses. We still look at immigrants, illegal or otherwise, and blame them for taking all the jobs when many of those jobs are still available in abundance (this, I’ll definitely get into sooner than later). We still talk about unions who strike as inconveniencing us when they’re really fighting the unfair wages that most of us decry privately when we think about the price of gas, milk, and rice.

So on this Juneteenth, I can’t really say slavery is over except by law and overtly. We’re not in chains (though interestingly, the number of jails almost went up exponentially when slavery was over, and the number of jails is predicated on how many kids fail the 4th grade statewide tests). We do have a lot more opportunities than our predecessors have. And the mere candidacy of Barack Obama would not have been possible without the fight that so many others of all different backgrounds fought for. Yet, people still have a slave-like mentality in that they would prefer to blame the others instead of looking at what their getting compared to the bosses.

I’m certainly not saying that A-Rod’s not making waaaaaaay more than the average worker, but maybe we should realize that the opportunity he recieved came from the work others before him did to protest their bosses.

jose, who wonders if people are really going to think deeper about their relationship with their own bosses …

p.s. – Special shout-out to Carmen D. for your reminder of my prompt to the AfroSpear …