This Week in History: January 17-23


25 years ago: Curt Flood dies, baseball player who defied landlord control

Curt Flood (right)

On January 20, 1997, Curt Flood, the all-star center fielder who was the first Major League Baseball player to defy owners’ control of the game and pave the way for free agency, died. in Los Angeles at the age of 59. the cause of death was pneumonia related to throat cancer that had struck him the previous year.

Flood spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was considered the best outfielder in an era that included Willie Mays. He set a record, playing 226 consecutive error-free games, and once went an entire season, in 1966, without an error. He won the Golden Glove for top roster seven years in a row, hit over .300 six times and played in the World Series in 1964, 1967 and 1968.

In 1969, the Cardinals sought to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood refused to report, instead filing a lawsuit challenging the “reserve clause”, then standard in every player’s contract, under which team owners had the absolute right to dispose of their services. As Flood said at the time, players were “treated like property”.

The result was that players had virtually no bargaining power and were vastly underpaid compared to the revenue they generated for owners. Flood, for example, a perennial star of a championship team owned by brewing magnate August Busch (Budweiser), never made more than $90,000 a year.

Congress had exempted Major League Baseball from antitrust laws in 1922, and that exemption had been interpreted to legalize the sparing clause. A U.S. District Court ruled against Flood after a trial in 1970, and the case was unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the owners by a 5-3 vote.

A second legal challenge to the reserve clause, brought by California Angels pitcher Andy Messersmith, was finally successful and free will became the norm for all professional athletes. But that came too late for Curt Flood, whose career essentially ended when he filed his lawsuit. He missed the 1970 season, then left the Washington Senators after a few weeks in 1971 and never played again.

While most players of his caliber were offered positions at one level or another in baseball management after their playing days were over, Flood was an outcast for owners. He never worked as a scout, coach, manager or instructor. After living abroad for several years, Flood returned to the United States and ran a youth center in Los Angeles.

50 years ago: Striking New York teachers defy Taylor’s anti-strike law

Porchester, NY teachers on strike

On January 18, 1972, teachers in Portchester, New York went on strike, closing eight area schools. The teachers went on strike in defiance of New York’s Taylor law, which prohibits public sector workers from striking on pain of heavy fines.

Teachers walked out of classrooms after the Board of Education offered them a raise of just 5.5% when they had demanded a raise of at least 11%. Teachers in working-class schools in Portchester were paid far less than their counterparts in neighboring districts.

A striking teacher told the Newsletter, the American predecessor of World Socialist Website, “We have been working since last September without a contract. Our last contract ended in June 1971. So far the board has refused to make any offers, and the last offer was 5.5%. Our request for 11% is entirely justified. We only insist on being on a par with other teachers in Westchester County. Starting salaries here are $7,900.

Another teacher explained the details of the proposed deal: “You have to understand that the 5.5% includes a normal raise built into the contract (based on seniority and education level). between us, the annual increase would be 2.2%.

The other major demand from teachers was a limitation on class size. Teachers on picket lines outside a junior high school reported classes of up to 37 students. The teachers’ contract until the strike contained no limit on the number of students who could be crammed into a classroom. “They can give us a raise and double our class sizes,” said one teacher.

Teachers have spoken out against the Taylor Act being used to threaten them back to work. A teacher said, “For me, the Taylor Law is totally unfair, and the only recourse I have is to break the law. The law is supposed to work both ways, but it really works against us and for the council.

Significantly, high school students showed their support for their teachers and staged an outing after being called by their school administration to a special assembly in the auditorium. It quickly became clear that the assembly had been called in an attempt to warehouse the students in the building so that the administration could claim that the schools remained open despite the strike. Many students showed their support by standing side by side with their teachers on the picket lines.

75 years ago: Massive losses in a shipwreck dubbed the “Greek Titanic”

The survivors of the Heimara wreck

On January 19, 1947, the SS Heimara, a passenger ship, sank after hitting a reef on its journey from the port of Piraeus, near Athens, to Thessaloniki, the largest city in northern Greece. At least 383 people were killed, but the true toll stood at 400, in what was Greece’s worst maritime disaster outside of a direct military engagement.

the Heimara was built in the first decade of the 20th century. She originally carried parcels but served as a hospital ship and mine layer for the German army during World War I. The old ship was donated to Greece at the end of World War II, as part of reparations overseen by the United States, Britain and the other Allied powers for the crimes of the Nazi regime.

The ship was carrying approximately 550 passengers and almost 90 crew members. Amid thick fog in the southern Gulf of Euboea, it struck a reef near the Verdugia islets. The rudder was badly damaged preventing further movement, the radio system was dismantled and the ship took on water. It took over an hour and a half before it sank.

Although the shore was a mile away, there was no coordinated evacuation or rescue operation. Passengers were left to fend for themselves in panic, with many perishing in the early morning freezing waters.

The incompetent management of the disaster reflects the political evolution. Greece had been decimated by a joint German-Italian occupation during World War II. Tens of thousands of civilians starved to death, basic infrastructure was destroyed and more than 20,000 partisan resistance members were killed at the hands of the fascists.

In the aftermath of World War II, civil war had broken out and was still going on when disaster struck. The Hellenic Army, made up of fascist collaborators and the conservative ruling elite, was backed by Britain and the United States as it waged a brutal war against supporters of the Democratic Army of Greece backed by the Communist Party. According to some reports, more than thirty of those who perished on the Heimara were political prisoners of the Hellenic army, transported to Thessaloniki.

100 years ago: First successful use of insulin to treat diabetes.

Cover of The Time featuring Dr. Banting

On January 23, 1922, Canadian physician Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best successfully administered a second dose of the hormone insulin to treat 14-year-old type 1 diabetes patient Leonard Thompson, who was dying of the disease, at Toronto Hospital.

Banting and Best had administered insulin to Thompson on January 11, but the drug apparently contained impurities and caused an allergic reaction in Thompson. After the second attempt, using a more refined extract of animal insulin, he was able to live another 13 years on daily doses of the drug.

Insulin is a hormone found in most vertebrates that regulates the amount of blood sugar in the body. It is normally produced in humans by the pancreas, but in some cases the pancreas is unable to produce it in sufficient quantities (type 1 diabetes) or the body’s cells lose the ability to respond to insulin produced by the pancreas (type 2 diabetes).

The role of insulin in physiology and its production by the pancreas had been discovered by scientists towards the end of the 19th century and it had been successfully extracted from mammals between 1906 and 1916 by several researchers.

With the help of biochemist James Collip, Banting and Best were able to extract insulin from dogs and eventually calf fetuses, refine it, and apply it to humans in 1921.

After their success with Leonard Thompson, the drug was applied to patients in the United States. Eli Lilly and Company scientists developed a process for producing insulin in large quantities, and it was commercialized in 1922, saving thousands of lives. Frederick Banting received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923.


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