Law, Baseball, and Pennant-Waving Schoolboys

Justice Blackmun may be famous for having authored the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, but he's also famous for the "sappy" 1972 baseball antitrust decision Flood v. Kuhn, which exempted baseball from antitrust laws just because baseball is, well, special:

[Flood v. Kuhn] begins with a hopelessly sentimental ode to baseball and a long list of best players who "sparked the diamond" through the national pastime's glorious history. It was so sappy that two justices in the majority refused to join that section of the decision.

How bad and sappy? The blurb above, from a Tony Mauro article about the decision in the Legal Times, doesn't really capture the florid wretchedness of Blackmun's writing in this opinion, which deserves some kind of bad writing award (on top of legal reasoning so poor that it stands as an embarrassment to lawyers everywhere):

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.... [See entire list of players below.*] And one recalls the appropriate reference to the "World Serious," attributed to Ring Lardner, Sr.; Ernest L. Thayer's "Casey at the Bat"; the ring of "Tinker to Evers to Chance"; and all the other happenings, habits, and superstitions about and around baseball that made it the "national pastime" or, depending upon the point of view, "the great American tragedy."

But I digress.

So along came a controversial and best-selling book by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong called The Brethren (if you're applying to law school and haven't read it, you should, along with Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine and Jan Crawford Greenburg's Supreme Conflict). The Brethren, which was overall very hostile to Blackmun, included a few sentences about the fact that Blackmun hadn't listed any black players in the first draft of his opinion and added them only at the behest of Thurgood Marshall. We were supposed to conclude that Blackmun was a bigot.

Turns out, "the story is false," according to Ross Davies in an interview with the Legal Times about an article he published in the Journal of Supreme Court History entitled "A Tall Tale of The Brethren." (Ross is a professor at George Mason Law School, editor-in-chief of the The Green Bag: An Entertaining Journal of Law, and my colleague at the latter.) Ross's research shows that the infamous first draft omitting black players never existed.

Eagle-eyed readers of Ross's article might notice that this is not a battle of anonymous sources, as is so often the case, particularly with Woodward. The authors of The Brethren claimed to have relied on an actual draft of the purportedly all-white document, and they have yet to produce it. (See in particular pages 11-12 and 20-23 in Ross's article.)

What else can we take away from the Flood decision? As Brad Snyder, lawyer and author of a book about Curt Flood, explains in the Legal Times interview: "Even the best judges turn into pennant-waving schoolboys when they decide cases about sports."


* 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 Campanela, Miller Huggins, Rube Bressler, Dazzy Vance, Edd Roush, Bill Wambsganess, 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 Comiske, 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.

For an unrelated discussion of Blackmun's list of players by law professor/baseball fan/former Hall of Fame scholar-in-residence, see this 2006 article by Roger Ian Abrams.