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Baseball and Law

For those interested in Law and Professional Baseball and those interested in Jurisprudence and Baseball

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Why a Guide on Baseball and the Law?

  • To celebrate the final arrival of warm weather in Cleveland;
  • To celebrate the beginning of this year's professional baseball season, which means that spring has truly arrived;
  • To celebrate the end of the academic year;
  • Because there actually is  a longtime relationship between lawyers, judges and arbitrators in baseball history;
  • Because many lawyers enjoy the study of the philosophy of law through baseball. Excellent law professors know that enjoying baseball is evidence of a life well-lived.

Baseball Legal Matters

  • Ray Cannon, a former baseball player turned U.S. Congressman, initiated legislation which "would have led to an antitrust examination of organized baseball as a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Act of 1890." (James B. Dworkin, Owners Versus Players: Baseball and Collective Bargaining (1981),  citing Paul Gregory, The Baseball Player: An Economic Study (1958).
  • Baseball's reserve system, put in place in 1879, meant that when a player signed a contract with a professional team, the player no longer had the choice to switch to another team.  The reserve system meant that a player was a team's property as long as the player played baseball, or until the owner chose to assign his contract to another team. 
  • Monte Ward tried to unionize and organize the baseball players, and attempted to create a third professional league, "The Players' League." The owners fought back through litigation and through the use of their economic strengths that the players could not counter.
  • The enactment of the Sherman Antitrust  Act was a potential threat to baseball's reserve clause, but the first challenge in the courts was won by the owners in the ruling of the Antitrust Exemption for baseball, in the decision in Federal Baseball
  • Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200 (1922). "In Error to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. Action at law by the Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore, Incorporated, against the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs and others for threefold damages under the Anti-Trust Acts. Judgment for plaintiff was reversed by the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, and judgment was ordered for defendants (50 App. D. C. 165, 269 Fed. 681), and plaintiff brings error. Affirmed."
  • Toolson v. New York Yankees,  346 U.S. 356 (1953). (The Toolson case gave the Supreme Court a chance to modify their position in Federal Baseball to no avail.   "Actions under the federal antitrust laws (15 U.S.C.A. s 1 et seq.) brought by professional baseball players against, inter alia, the owners of professional baseball clubs. In case No. 18, a decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division, 101 F.Supp. 93, adverse to the plaintiff, was affirmed on appeal by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 200 F.2d 198. In cases Nos. 23 and 25, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio dismissed the complaints, and the plaintiffs appealed. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 202 F.2d 413, and 202 F.2d 428, affirmed. On certiorari granted, the United States Supreme Court disposed of all three cases by adhering to its prior determination that Congress had no intention of including the business of baseball within the scope of the Federal antitrust laws. Affirmed. Mr. Justice Burton and Mr. Justice Reed, dissented."
  • Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972). Player Curt Flood  again challenged the reserve clause in his case against Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. "Antitrust suit by professional baseball player, who had been traded to another major league club without his previous knowledge or consent and whose request to be made a free agent had been denied by the commissioner of baseball, challenging professional baseball's reserve clause. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 316 F.Supp. 271, dismissed complaint, and plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals, 443 F.2d 264, affirmed, and certiorari was granted. Mr. Justice Blackmun delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court that longstanding exemption of professional baseball's reserve system from federal antitrust laws is an established aberration in which Congress has acquiesced and is entitled to benefit of stare decisis, and any inconsistency or illogic is to be remedied by the Congress and not by the Supreme Court. Affirmed. Mr. Justice White joined in the judgment of the Court, and in all but Part I of the Court's opinion. The Chief Justice filed a concurring opinion. Mr. Justice Douglas and Mr. Justice Marshall filed dissenting opinions, in which Mr. Justice Brennan joined. Mr. Justice Powell took no part in consideration or decision of the case.
  • The "Black Sox" cheating scandel: People v. Cicotte, "will continue to be debated and never resolved, the jury found the most famous players in baseball history not guilty on all counts, but  Commissioner of Baseball Landis banned all the players from baseball forever."
  • Popov v. Hayashi, a "legal battle over the Barry Bonds 73rd Home Run Ball" in which neither party won.
  • The Andy Messersmith / Dave McNally Arbitration case that allowed players free agency. (After Catfish Hunter had already become the first free agent in baseball).
  • The foul ball liability cases: Schentzel v. Philadelphia National League Club  and Benejam v. Detroit Tigers.
  • Rose v. Giamatti: All-time hit leader Pete Rose banned from baseball for gambling.

Important lawyers and judges with an important relationship with American baseball:

  • Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944) (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1944). After graduating from law school, became the personal secretary of Walter Q. Gresham, United States Secretary of State, then practiced law in Chicago, until he was appointed as a federal judge in 1905. After the Black Sox scandal and other baseball scandals of the era, he was appointed as the first Commissioner of baseball, a position he served from 1920-1944.  Several of Landis' successors as commissioners were also lawyers: 
    • Bowie Kuhn (1926 - 2007).
    • Fay Vincent (1938 -      ).
    • Rob Manfred, the current Commissioner.
  • Though he helped to restore faith in American baseball, Landis is often criticized for delaying the racial integration of professional baseball. Many felt that the punishment he meted out to Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver was too harsh. On the positive side, Landis is remembered many innovations, especially:
    • ​Introducing the All-Star game.
    • Introducing the first Major League games played at night.
    • Resolving relations between the Major and Minor leagues.
    • Inhibiting the impact of gambling on the game.
  • Jim O'Rourke (1850 - 1919).  He is known as the person to have the first base hit in National League history (in 1876). He graduated from Yale Law School in 1887.​ (Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: 1945).
    • Known as "Orator Jim" "because of a tendency toward lengthy rhetoric." (Source:  Baseball Hall of Fame).
    • He left the major leagues in 1893 but continued to play in the minor leagues until after he was over 50 years old. 
    • O'Rourke became the "executive" of a minor league team for which he hired the first African American minor league baseball player in history.
    • He made a final major league appearance with the New York Giants at age 54. He is the oldest player to hit safely in a major league game. 
  • John Montgomery "Monte" Ward (1860-1925).  Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher, shortstop, second baseman and manager. Ward graduated from Columbia Law School. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1964).
    • He had many achievements:
      • Some believe that he created the first curve ball, though others attribute that to Candy Cummings. The Hall of Fame indicates that he was a "pitching pioneer."
      • Ward pitched the second perfect game in baseball history.  It was 84 years before another one occurred. 
      • He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1885, after which he unionized the National League.
      • He became a player-manager. 
      • Disenchanted with the classification system, the reserve clause,  and the owners of Major League Baseball, he created a short-lived  Players' League that would grant players profit-sharing. Ward wrote articles supporting the unionization of professional baseball.
      • After the dissolution of the Players league, he returned to the Brooklyn Grooms, then back to the Giants.  
      • He retired from MLB to enter the legal profession at age 34.  He finished his baseball career with 2,104 hits, 540 stolen bases, and was the only man in baseball history to win over 100 games as a pitcher and collect over 2,000 hits.
  • Hughie Jennings (1860-1928). Star shortstop, coach and manager.  Attended Cornell Law School in the off-seasons. Passed the Maryland Bar in 1905 and started a law practice that he continued to work for during the off-seasons. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1945).
    • ​Hughie Jennings was a player for the Baltimore Orioles (1893-1899), for the Brooklyn Superbas & the Philadelphia Phillies (1899-1903).
    • "Jennings in his prime was the greatest shortstop in baseball,” said Joe Vila of the New York Sun." (Per the National Baseball Hall of Fame biography of Jennings).  
    • Served as manager to the Detroit Tigers 1907-1920. He led the Tigers to three consecutive American League pennants, 1907-1909. 
    • Coached for the New York Giants starting in 1921, and became substitute manager for the Giants when the manager became ill.
    • Close to legendary manager John McGraw, and was coach when the Giants won two World Series titles in 1921 and 1922.
  • John Charles Hendricks (1875 -1943). Hendricks played parts of two seasons as a Major League Baseball outfielder, but was best known for his managerial career. He obtained a law degree from Northwestern University Law School and was admitted to the Illinois Bar.
  • He started as a manager in the minor leagues, eventually becoming the manager for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1917. He then became manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1924. He was fired from the Reds in 1929. 
  • Branch Rickey (1881 - 1965). Rickey was both a professional player and a "sports executive." (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1967). Besides being a professional baseball star until 1907, he also played professional football. He played in both the minor and major leagues of baseball. He received an LL.B from University of Michigan in 1913. He became a "front office executive" for the St. Louis Browns, and became manager. After serving in World War I, he managed the St. Louis Cardinals and also became team president. Later he became in effect the first general manager (GM) of the team (although that was not his title). He became part owner of minor league teams, and later the Brooklyn Dodgers hired him as President and GM. 
    • Rickey contributed many innovations to the game, but most importantly, he broke baseball's color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers.
    • Other improvements he contributed include:
      • Creating the first spring training facility in Vero Beach, Florida.
      • Requiring batting helmets.
      • Encouraging the use of batting cages and pitching machines.
      • Initiated the reliance on statistical analysis in the game. 
  • Happy Chandler (Albert Benjamine Chandler) (1898-1991). ​Served a 6-year term as the Second Commissioner of Major League Baseball but oversaw and supported the breaking of the color barrier. Played minor league baseball before starting law school.  One year at Harvard Law School but completed his law degree at University of Kentucky College of Law.
    • ​Only served one term as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball but oversaw and supported the breaking of the color barrier. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1982).
    • Known as the "Players' Commissioner." Chandler "was instrumental in creating the great pension that players benefit from today." (From the Hall of Fame biography).
    • Known for moving the two alternate umpires in each crew to the foul lines.
    • Known also for his political career, was twice a governor of Kentucky and was a United States Senator, among other offices held.
    • Supported not suspending baseball during World War II.
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  • Miller Huggins (1878 - 1929). A professional baseball player and manager who obtained his law degree from University of Cincinnati. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1964).
    • ​Huggins played in semi-professional and minor league baseball until he signed with the Cincinnati Reds from 1904 - 1906. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.
    • He became player-manager for the Cardinals in 1912. He is known for coaching Rogers Hornsby to improve his batting stance, and then Hornsby took his place as second baseman.
    • As manager of the New York Yankees, he led the team to 6 Pennants and 5 World Series victories. 
    • He was Babe Ruth's manager during much of the time he was the Yankees manager. The two of them had some famous run-ins and Babe said, "He was the only man who knew how to keep me in line." (From the Hall of Fame biography of Huggins).
    • He successfully served as manager for the New York Yankees from 1918 until his death in 1929.  
  • Herold Dominic "Muddy" Ruel (1896-1963). Catcher, manager, coach, general manager.  "One of the most durable catchers in American League History." Ruel held a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis and was admitted to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was known as "an expert on the complexities of baseball law." (From his obituary).
    • He was a major league catcher for 18 years, with outstanding performances, leading the American League catchers "three times in putouts and assists and twice for range factor and base runners caught stealing." 
    • He is, of course,  most important for coaching the Cleveland Indians 1948-1950, including winning the 1948 World Series. 
    • He served as an assistant to Commissioner of Baseball Happy Chandler in 1946.
    • Later, he was farm director of the Detroit Tigers, and then GM of the Tigers.
  • Tony LaRussa, Jr. (1944 -    ). Began a major league player in 1963 as an infielder for the Kansas City Athletics. Obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Florida State University College of Law. Served as Manager of the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals. ​(National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction" 2014)
    • Was named American League Manager of the Year when he was manager of the White Sox in 1983.
    • Earned two additional titles as Manager of the Year for the Oakland A's in 1988 and 1992.
    • He led the Oakland A's to a World Series title in 1989.
    • LaRussa led the St. Louis Cardinals to Division titles 1996, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009.  Then he led the Cardinals to two World Series Titles:  2011 and 2006.