He Played Real Good For Free

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A player's only recourse was retirement. Oddly enough, the language of the reserve clause was ambiguous. It merely said that if you played for a team, you must play for that team the next season as well. Two players before Flood had challenged the reserve clause only to run up against baseball's exemption from antitrust laws, first established in in a decision by Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The reserve clause, the antitrust exemption, and the legal decisions that had accumulated around it all had an aura of irrationality about them. It was as if, as Miller once put it, "the courts were saying 'Yes, you're an American and have the right to seek employment anywhere you like, but this right does not apply to baseball players. When Flood came to Miller, his mind was already made up. More important than that, I told him even if he won, he'd never get anything out of it—he'd never get a job in baseball again.

Flood asked Miller if it would benefit other players.

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He said, 'That's good enough for me. The intriguing title is explained in large part by the fact that Flood's real motivations for his decision have never been fully explored in any documentary. Ken Burns' award-winning PBS series Baseball , paid tribute to the historic importance of Flood's suit but gave scant attention to the backstory. Born in Houston in , Flood was raised in the relatively tolerant Oakland, California.

His mother, who had fled the intense racial bigotry of the pre-World War II South, never let him forget what things had been like where she grew up, and in , having little idea of what he was about to encounter, the year-old Flood went to Mississippi to join his idols Dr.

Less than two years later, to his shock, racial prejudice pursued him to his own hometown—or, to be precise, 21 miles away in the suburb of Alamo—when he rented a house for his pregnant wife and four small children only to denied entrance by the owner, who didn't know they were black when they signed the lease and barred their way with a loaded shotgun. Flood sued and won, but it left him without illusions about what it was like to be a black man in America in —even an affluent one who had just come home after helping a major league baseball team win the World Series.

Most black baseball stars—Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks—were all but invisible during the Civil Rights movement, so Flood's activism was years ahead of its time. When it came time for him to take a stand on being traded to Philadelphia, he was ready. Kuhn, echoing the court decisions of previous years, replied that he was sympathetic to Flood's feelings but "simply did not see how that applied to Major League Baseball.

Flood's teammates and colleagues were skeptical of his suit and did not support him; on the day he testified only two former players, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, stood by him. No active players were there—not even Flood's outspoken teammate Bob Gibson dared to support him, all fearful of retaliation from the owners.

What Miller thought was an impossible goal turned out, heart-breakingly, to be within reach. When the decision was announced in , Flood lost , but only after Judge Lewis Powell, who was sympathetic to Flood, withdrew from the case because of what he called conflict of interest - he owned stock in Anheuser-Busch, whose principal owner, Augie Busch, owned the St. Louis Cardinals. If Powell had remained, Flood could have won a decision, but his withdrawal, combined with Chief Justice Warren Berger's 11th-hour switch from Flood's side to baseball's, killed Flood's case.

In effect, the court ruled that yes, Flood should have the right be a free agent, but that baseball's antitrust exemption could only be removed by an act of Congress and that free agency for players should be attained through collective bargaining. That is precisely what happened. Because of the pressure that Flood's suit brought to the baseball owners, Miller and the union were able to bargain for binding arbitration on grievances. And, finally, in , when pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally agreed to play a season without a contract, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled them free agents.

Overnight, the system that Miller called feudal, the one that had ruled baseball virtually since its professional organs, collapsed. Prophets of doom and gloom about the future of the game could be seen on every sports page, but in the end, the Players Association worked out things with management, and salaries sky-rocketed—along with profits, it turned out, as fans liked the exciting new era of free agency and the players it brought to their teams.

As Miller had predicted, Flood never benefited from the revolution he helped begin. High-strung and sensitive, Flood had been a heavy drinker practically since the time he became a professional ballplayer, and by the early s he was an alcoholic. His first marriage fell apart in the mids from the combination of alcohol abuse, long stretches away from home, and the animosities his unwavering Civil Rights stance inspired.

After the Supreme Court decision, he was bombarded with hate mail from fans who accused him of trying to destroy baseball; his teammate Bob Gibson estimated "He got four or five death threats a day. Flood left the country and opened a bar in Majorca, Spain, frequented by American sailors. You remember that one? It was everything to me. The only thing missing was that white butler. It was unbelievable. I had a great time.

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But summer is slipping away. Kenora is more than miles north of Minneapolis, and the winter in this area is blistery cold, snowy and overcast. Joe Murphy closes his eyes in pain. He makes a fist and rubs his knuckle over his forehead. Something is not right. He has frequent headaches, wild mood swings and personality changes — all symptoms associated with CTE, which typically is diagnosed in death. Murphy was playing for Edmonton against the Red Wings on Jan. Murphy lifted into the air and his head hit the railing. And I got up, too.

It was just natural instinct. I was all over the place. Murphy re-entered the game in the second period and remembers going on a breakaway. His vision was messed up. Everybody is waving the flags, get the expletive off. They got me off the ice and rolled me into the dressing room. I was in bad shape, man.

I was in bad shape the whole season. I felt lazy, lethargic, I got a little sick. My energy was gone. But he is certain of one thing: After suffering that first concussion, they became more frequent. We were in the middle of nowhere and the guy laid me out. Full blown! In practice! The thing might be going mph. This thing is vulcanized rubber, and this is like taking a rock right into a chunk of your head and I was gone. Now, there may be three or four more. Maybe, total, five. It would go one-thousand one, two, three, and there would be tons of them.

Then, I knew it was done. I think, if I had a light bump, I had another one. It was bad news for me. Suddenly, he says he has two brain tumors. He is convinced of this because he went for medical tests and overheard a worker talking. Without warning, he changes the subject again and dips back into a hockey memory, about a leg injury.


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Joe Murphy walks down the street in Kenora, making wild hand gestures, waving his arms and hands, like he is trying to swat at a bee. Murphy bounces between emotions, going from dead silence to vein-popping screams. He can be bigger than life with a booming laugh. But he has to fight, and he has to take help, too. What role do concussions play in the symptoms he has experienced and how he ended up homeless? It is unclear. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has denied any link between repeated concussions and CTE, which has been discovered in more than deceased athletes, most of them football players.

More than 4, former NFL players sued the league, accusing it of concealing the dangers of concussions.


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The NFL ended up agreeing to a historic billion-dollar settlement to resolve the lawsuit without admitting guilt. Murphy was part of the failed attempt to attain class-action status in a concussion lawsuit against the NHL in July. The lawsuit argued: "Mr. Murphy never was warned by the NHL of the negative health effects of head trauma. He had problems with his memory, impulsivity and struggled with bright light, according to a story published in the New York Times in May. The Wings were expecting him to become a superstar, someone who might transform the game, but he scored just 11 goals playing parts of three seasons.

Fans turned on Murphy, many of whom had wanted the Wings to take Carson. While Murphy struggled, Carson became the only teenager other than Wayne Gretzky to score 50 goals in a season, which only increased the pressure. Murphy, the first college player taken No. He kind of put up a facade that he was a confident person but I never bought it. What I've told them over and over again is that he's a good kid — and he's still a kid. Joe is a good-natured, fun-loving teenager.

He wasn't late for anything at Michigan State because the college environment is easier, living with your teammates. It's a lot tougher on your own in pro hockey. The Red Wings gave up on Murphy in , trading him to Edmonton in a blockbuster six-player deal that, ironically enough, brought Carson to the Wings. As he bounced through the NHL, playing for a total of seven teams, there was a string of odd and erratic behavior.

Murphy had strange tryout with the New York Rangers in , when he reportedly argued with members of the front office and accused somebody of throwing his skates in the river. He was suspended by the Boston Bruins in for an act of insubordination toward a coach.

In December of that year, he was playing for the Washington Capitals when he was reportedly struck on the head with a glass at a Manhattan nightclub. In , Murphy was living in Costa Rica but was deported back to Canada. But he ended up being forced to leave. Then, Murphy moved to Sioux Lookout, a town of about 5, in northwestern Ontario.

He got in a fight with a man and was charged with assault, according to court records. He rests his head on concrete block. His coat is unzipped, his shoes off. His body curled in the fetal position, basking in the afternoon sunshine. And he points to a scar on his neck. I was causing no problems. Grazed right across my jugular. He was going for the kill shot.

Dropping off tents. His body is battered from playing hockey. He busted his ankle once and he says he has had frostbite on both feet from living on the streets in winter. He has had more toes busted than he can remember — some from hockey, some from the streets. And his left wrist bothers him. He messed it up playing hockey. Shut up! A few years ago, he ballooned up to pounds after a bout of depression. He was drinking a dozen cokes a day.

In the morning, he walks from the gas station where he sleeps to the Anamiewigummig Fellowship Centre, located in downtown Kenora, next to the courthouse, about a half-hour walk. They provide some very nice things for the people every day. Staff is very nice.

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They have a TV there. You can sit in a chair and relax. Murphy often will dig through a laundry basket and get a change of clothes. I do see him out and about. He never talks about hockey, never, ever, ever. How Murphy lost everything remains a mystery, even to his attorney, Greg Iwasiw. Louis Blues. After my taxes, I gotta pay my agent.

Then, I got divorced. Then, I got payments. I made an investment — boom! It was like that. After, I had a little left over, so I invested in other things. Black jack, I invested in, I liked the Johnny Walker, a little bit of wine. I bought a house for this one guy. I bought a house for my parents. My dad had a hard time. Then, I got a car, truck. Then, I got them two cars. I did in my heart. I did because I like to help them.

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His pride comes from a different place, for how he played the game. Guys on my line are. Whose fault? Watch the tape. This man who is homeless, who barely has a penny to his name, has these amazing memories, which are like gold to him. I loved it. But I was mad at the other guys. Yes, hockey is a team game and there is an entire squad of former NHL players who are concerned about Murphy.

He bursts into laughter, holding his face. He kicks his feet, leans back and rocks back and forth. Murphy has a new tent that he got from a man at the beach; no, Murphy bought it; no, somebody dropped it off; no, he gave it away. He stands on a street in Kenora, points at a national chain business and says he once owned a large part of a company.

He cracks jokes and plays dumb and then bursts out laughing. Murphy set scoring records in junior hockey, helped lead Michigan State to an NCAA championship and was a scoring wizard for Canada at a world junior tournament when he was a teenager. Murphy played at Michigan State for that one championship season. When he was at MSU, Murphy was never one to make up stories, according to his teammates.

He was never one to make grand proclamations like he does now. Cole played with Murphy at MSU. He still looks like Murph. But people have been trying to help him for years — his family, friends, former teammates and coaches. In mid-September, two former NHL hockey players are on a mission. They fly to Winnipeg, rent a car and drive about two hours to Kenora, hoping to help Murphy. Is he willing to get it?