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Announcing a Research Guide on Law and Baseball

Judith Kaul  /  Wednesday, May 30, 2018  /  Categories: Just in Case, Quick Guides  /  Rate this article:
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Announcing a Research Guide on Baseball and Law.


Why a Guide on Baseball and 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.


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. A case representative of the issues over all the balls, splintered bats and other paraphernalia that fly into the stands.

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 (1953)  and Benejam v. Detroit Tigers (2001). Fans assume the risks.

Rose v. Giamatti 721 F.Supp. 906 : All-time hit leader Pete Rose banned from baseball for allegedly gambling on baseball.

The players who became judges and lawyers and impacted the national pastime:

Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944) was appointed as a federal Judge in 1905. After the Black Sox scandal and other baseball scandals of the era, Landis was appointed as the first Commissioner of Baseball, a position he served from 1920-1944.  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 punishments he gave to Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver were too harsh. On the positive side, Landis is remembered many innovations, especially for initiating the All Star Game. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1944).

Several of Landis' successors as Commissioners of Baseball were also lawyers: Bowie Kuhn, Fay Vincent and Rob Manfred, the current Commissioner of Baseball. 


Jim O'Rourke (1850 - 1919). ​He graduated from Yale Law School in 1887.​ 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. (Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: 1945).

Branch Rickey (1881 - 1965). Rickey was both a professional player and a "sports executive," making many contributions to the game.  Signed Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers ending the racial barrier in professional baseball. Received his law degree from University of Michigan (where he also coached the University's baseball team while attending law school). (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1967).

Happy Chandler (Albert Benjamine Chandler) (1898-1991). ​​
Only served one 6-year term as the Second Commissioner of Major League Baseball but in that time oversaw and supported the breaking of the color barrier. Played minor league baseball before starting law school.  Spent one year at Harvard Law School but completed his law degree at University of Kentucky College of Law.​​ (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1982).

John Montgomery "Monte" Ward (1860-1925). Graduated from Columbia Law School, was a player-manager, and pitched the second perfect game in baseball. Disenchanted with the owners and the reserve clause, he unionized the National League, and created the short-lived Players' League, among other attempts to change the system. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1964).

Hughie Jennings (1860-1928). Attended Cornell Law School during the off-seasons, then ran a law practice in the office seasons. Played for the Orioles, the Brooklyn Grooms, and the Giants. He became a manager for the Detroit Tigers, leading them to three consecutive American League Pennants (1907-1909). (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1945).

Miller Huggins (1878 - 1929). A professional baseball player and manager who obtained his law degree from University of Cincinnati. 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). Huggins successfully served as manager for the New York Yankees from 1918 until his death in 1929. (Inducted into the Hall of Fame: 1964).

Muddy Ruel (1896-1963). Catcher, manager, coach, and a general manager and obtained a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He is most important for coaching the Cleveland Indians 1948-1950, including leading the Tribe to win the 1948 World Series.

Tony LaRussa, Jr. (1944 -    ).  After a career as a player, he managed the White Sox, the Oakland A's and the St. Louis Cardinals. He obtained is Juris Doctor degree from Florida State University College of Law. Was named American League Manager of the Year when he was manager of the White Sox in 1983. ​(National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction" 2014),

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