Saturday, March 06, 2004

Baseball on the Minds of Supreme Court Justices 

On October 10th 1973, United States Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun was stuck behind the bench listening to lawyer after lawyer pontificate for hours on the dullest of legal issues: a taxpayer airing a bogus grievance about the conduct of government; a group of employees seeking recovery of profit sharing benefits; architects arguing against statutes precluding awards of government contracts; and alas, the scintillating issue of whether an American Indian tribe is exempt from state fishery conservation measures.

This week Justice Blackmun's papers were released by the Library of Congress. The papers are a treasure chest of fascinating information and a rare look into the normally ultra secretive inner workings of the Supreme Court. The papers give us a guided tour through Blackmun's thought process as he wrote the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade. The papers provide us with a rare glimpse into what goes on behind the closed doors when the Justices meet in a veil of secrecy to decide cases. But more importantly, the papers reveal that on October 10th 1973, other than being bored to tears with the above mentioned cases, the Justices were getting baseball updates! A note in Justice Blackmun's papers, presumably authored by Justice Potter Stewart (a lifelong Reds fan) read, "V.P. Agnew Just Resigned!! Mets 2 Reds 0." It is truly amazing that while complex constitutional issues of national importance are being argued in front of them, and while the nation was in the midst of a political crisis, the Justices were silently passing notes like school children to keep up to speed on the 1973 National League Championship Series between the Mets and Reds! I wonder if Eddie Kranepool, upon knocking in the Mets first two runs in the first inning, sent a note down the dugout updating his teammates on Lefkowitz v. Turley, the exciting government contracts case being heard some 250 miles away in Washington, D.C.?

The release of Blackmun's papers reveals other interesting baseball tidbits. A note read, "Rose grounded to 2nd, Morgan walked, Driessen singled and Morgan took 3rd... NO SCORE." Yet another note shows that the Justices were way ahead of their time in embracing sabermetrics. Well, maybe not, but they knew their stats. This note, presumably written by Justice Blackmun who was die hard Cubs fan, discusses Hall of Fame Cubby outfielder Kiki Cuyler. A Justice (Blackmun?) writes: 1) Stole most bases in the National League; 2) Batted 5th on best team Cubs ever had; 3) Had a great throwing arm; 4) (illegible - to me at least). Bill James would be proud. Cuyler indeed led the National League in stolen bases not once, but three times. While I never had the pleasure of seeing Cuyler play, he did have 21 outfield assists in a season twice, which would place him only one assist behind last year's right field assists leader Richard Hidalgo. Lastly, Blackmun is correct again; Cuyler was on the 1929 and 1932 Cubs teams that made it to the World Series and sure enough, he batted fifth.

It is actually not surprising that baseball related notes would show up in Blackmun's papers. After all, he was a Cubs fan and even belonged to Washington, D.C. based Cubs fan club co founded by current Vice President Dick Cheney called the Emil Verban Memorial Society (Verban was a Cub in 1948-1950 who had 2911 career at bats with only one home run).

However, one need not scour through boxes of Blackmun's papers to find evidence of his love of baseball. Justice Blackmun wrote Flood v. Kuhn in 1972, the case that reaffirmed Major League Baseball's exemption from U.S. antitrust laws. Justice Blackmun took the opportunity in the first introductory section of the opinion to write about the game he loved. Blackmun's ode to baseball if you will. Taking The Baseball Encyclopedia off his shelf, Blackmun began by setting out some of the history of the game, beginning with what many believe to be the first baseball game held on June 19, 1846 between the New York Nine and Knickerbockers on Hoboken's 261 Elysian Fields. Justice Blackman then went on to list some of the famous names in baseball:

Then there are the many names, celebrated for one reason or another, that have sparked the diamond and its environs and that have provided tinder for recaptured thrills, for reminiscence and comparisons, and for conversation and anticipation in-season and off-season:

Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, Henry Chadwick, Eddie Collins, Lou Gehrig, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, Harry Hooper, Goose Goslin, Jackie Robinson, Honus Wagner, Joe McCarthy, John McGraw, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson, Tommy Leach, Big Ed Delahanty, Davy Jones, Germany Schaefer, King Kelly, Big Dan Brouthers, Wahoo Sam Crawford, Wee Willie Keeler, Big Ed Walsh, Jimmy Austin, Fred Snodgrass, Satchel Paige, Hugh Jennings, Fred Merkle, Iron Man McGinnity, Three-Finger Brown, Harry and Stan Coveleski, Connie Mack, Al Bridwell, Red Ruffing, Amos Rusie, Cy Young, Smokey Joe Wood, Chief Meyers, Chief Bender, Bill Klem, Hans Lobert, Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, Roy Campanella, Miller Huggins, Rube Bressler, Dazzy Vance, Edd Roush, Bill Wambsganss, Clark Griffith, Branch Rickey, Frank Chance, Cap Anson, Nap Lajoie, Sad Sam Jones, Bob O'Farrell, Lefty O'Doul, Bobby Veach, Willie Kamm, Heinie Groh, Lloyd and Paul Waner, Stuffy McInnis, Charles Comiskey, Roger Bresnahan, Bill Dickey, Zack Wheat, George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Eppa Rixey, Harry Heilmann, Fred Clarke, Dizzy Dean, Hank Greenberg, Pie Traynor, Rube Waddell, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Old Hoss Radbourne, Moe Berg, Rabbit Maranville, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove.
As Supreme Court lore has it, once a draft was circulated certain Justices requested their favorite players be added. Justice Thurgood Marshall was concerned that no black players were listed. Justice Potter Stewart was upset that no Reds players were included. Justice Blackmun revised the draft to please his brethren. Justice Blackmun agonized over which players to include in his own little Opinion of Fame and was shocked to learn that a player he intended to include had somehow been deleted from the final opinion. That player was Giants great Mell Ott and Blackmun is said to have never forgiven himself for the unintentional omission.

The release of Blackmun's papers and the baseball related information found therein is enlightening. The baseball related notes show that the Justices are guilty of what we are all of guilty of. In the middle of the workday they found something a little more fun to do: catch up on baseball. While Justices Stewart and Blackmun had court clerks to scurry around and gather baseball scores, we go to our favorite sports website. The next time I take five minutes from work to catch up on my team I will not feel so bad, not that I ever did. If Justice Blackmun, 1/9th of 1/3rd of the most powerful government in the world can tune out for a few minutes to think about the throwing arm of Kiki Cuyler, then I can take a few minutes to pour over something equally important, like Ty Wigginton's 2003 first half OPS.

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