By Joel Frank
If you've ridden with me on Metro North to the City you've probably seen me reading, among works on history, science, music and biographies, books on baseball. If you've been to my office, you'll find it crammed with baseball memorabilia ranging from vintage stadium seats (used as my guest chairs), signed baseballs, bobble heads and framed scorecards of important games. And if you've been to my house, you'll find even more memorabilia including more vintage seats, metal signs, a turnstile from a major league ballpark, game-used jerseys, baseball advertising pierces and a baseball arcade game. By now, you're probably saying "OK, he's obsessed with baseball." I interviewed with the Yankees in 1999 for a position in their legal department but could not pursue the opportunity. So, baseball remains a hobby while I practice as a corporate and securities attorney.
Many of my fellow lawyers are big baseball fans. After all, Commissioners Landis, Chandler, Kuhn, Vincent and Manfred were lawyers first. Commissioner Landis was recruited from the bench as a Federal District Court Judge in Chicago. Is there a reason for this? I think it hinges on the rule of law. This occurs to me in light of my recent collecting efforts. I used to collect balls signed by members of the Hall of Fame or HOF. I stopped acquiring signed balls from the newer members of the HOF about two years ago for several reasons. First, the prices charged by the newer members are just too high with no resale value given the lack of scarcity. On top of this, the younger members signatures are really nothing more than illegible scrawls. While I won't mention a particular HOF pitcher by name, his scrawl is so bad you can't even identify the first letters of his first and last name. Why would I pay $175 to $200 or even more for that? So, how to satisfy my collecting need and not compromise my new principles? The answer came to me when I was looking at an official ball from a World Series I had attended. Umpires. The goal became one of obtaining the signatures of the crew of umpires who had worked that particular World Series.
Over the last few years I have been obtaining signatures from umpires and now have approximately 30 signed balls. The umpires I have contacted have been a pleasure to deal with and gracious in signing without asking for compensation. But why umpires? They are the on field judges interpreting the laws of baseball applying them to the facts of the play, so to speak, and rendering on the spot decisions. With the advent of instant replay and a crew reviewing certain plays from offices in New York City, one could say that these reviewers are the Appeals Court for baseball. As a member of the Bar sworn to uphold the law (although unlike umpires, who are impartial, I have to zealously represent my client's position in the matters I handle), I understand the umpire's position and role perhaps a bit more than others.
Baseball has, you will not be surprised, been no stranger to the court system. The most prominent case being Federal Baseball Club v. National League, 259 U.S. 200 (1922), with the U.S. Supreme Court holding that baseball is not interstate commerce and therefore not subject to the U.S. anti-trust laws. Although the Supreme Court has had several opportunities to overrule Federal Baseball Club, most notably Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc., 346 U.S. 356 (1953), the task has been left to Congress. In fact, on October 5, 2015, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal brought by the City of San Jose, California alleging anti-trust violations in the Oakland Athletics' attempt to relocate its franchise to San Jose (City of San Jose, California, et al. Petitioner v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al. Docket No. 14-1252). Another prominent case was Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972), where Mr. Flood unsuccessfully challenged baseball's reserve clause. Mr. Flood lost the battle but the war was won a few years later in an arbitration brought by pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.
Familiar to all followers of baseball, and not just the lawyers, is now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's ruling in Silverman v. Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee, Inc., 880 F. Supp. 246 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). In Silverman, Judge Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against Major League Baseball preventing it from unilaterally implementing a new collective bargaining agreement and using replacement players. Her ruling ultimately ended the 1994 baseball strike.
And as you would expect, numerous court cases have been brought in other areas of the law.Baker v. Topping, 15 A.D. 2d 193, 222 N.Y.S. 2d 658 (1961) was a suit brought by a spectator injured by a foul ball. In American League Baseball Club of New York vs. Johnson, 179 N.Y.S. 898, an injunction was issued against the suspension of newly-acquired pitcher Carl Mays.
There have also been numerous books published on baseball and the law such as Courting the Yankees, Legal Essays on the Bronx Bombers, Edited by Ettie Ward (2003), Baseball and the American Legal Mind (Spencer W. Waller 1995), Legal Bases, Baseball and the Law (Roger Abrams 2001), and The Basbeall Trust: A History of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption (Stuart Banner 2013) . My favorite piece is The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule, 123 U of Pennsylvania Law Review (1975).
Before I close, I mentioned earlier that many of the umpires have been gracious in signing. I also want to tell you about Umps Care, a charity for kids run by the Major League Umpires. Check out their website at www.umpscare.com and if you are so inclined, make a contribution. They do good things and a great job.
The post-season has just concluded but spring training is not that far off. Play ball!
About the author:
|Joel Frank is a partner at the firm and practices in the corporate & securities area. His approach is predicated on providing practical legal advice that helps his clients achieve their business objectives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 212-981-2306.|