Baseball law

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Baseball law refers to the various civil statutes, local ordinances, and court decisions pertaining to the game of baseball and its institutions, as distinguished from the Rules of Baseball, which are a private codification of rules governing the internal workings of baseball games.

Nineteenth-century baseball law[edit]

Both the early rules (which act as the laws of the game) and the legal cases surrounding the sport impact the way baseball is played to this day. Documentation of early baseball law exists but has been rarely studied. Nonetheless its presence in legal disputes and records indicate that it was an important part of American life before 1900. In fact, references to baseball are present in 168 legal cases decided before the turn of the twentieth century.[1]

"Blue" laws[edit]

In America's past, "blue" laws prohibited business from taking place on the Sabbath. This was an issue for baseball teams who were playing for spectators on Sundays. On April 30, 1891, Tim O'Rourk and 19 others were the subject of a criminal complaint that pertained to them playing baseball for an audience of about 3,000 in Lincoln Park the previous Sunday. The case of State v. O'Rourk ensued.

It was illegal at the time for anyone over age 14 "engage in sporting" on a Sunday. The penalty for which was "a fine of $20, incarceration for 20 days, or both." The accused argued that baseball did not fall under the category of "sport" and that they were remotely located enough so as not to have offended those observing the Sabbath. The presiding judge dismissed the case on those grounds. However, Chief Justice Maxwell of the Nebraska Supreme Court disagreed.[2]

This case showed that there was a growing class of people willing to depart from tradition and attend a baseball game on a Sunday. It also indicates that there were those who adamantly resisted such change.

Star players[edit]

John Montgomery Ward

"Free agency" did not exist as it does today in baseball until the 1970s. Instead, players were bound to their teams by something called the "reserve clause". John "Monte" Ward was the first to oppose this in November 1889. He was a star player for the National League's New York Giants, but was also an author and lawyer.

The "reserve" clause did not specify terms of contract, salary or agreements between player and teams. A judge ultimately ruled that with such fundamental questions left unanswered, the clause could not reasonably be enforced.[3]

This was the first case of many that ruled in favor of the individual player rather than the team. It allowed star players more choices and the ability to use competition to increase their value.

Baseball Rule[edit]

In 1913 a Missouri appeals court heard Crane v. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co., a tort case where a spectator at a Kansas City Blues game who had been struck and injured by a foul ball alleged the team had been negligent. But since he had chosen to sit in an unprotected area of the park, even though tickets were general admission and seats were available behind the backstop, the court held for the team per the contributory negligence and assumption of risk doctrines.[4]

This holding was adopted by courts hearing similar cases in other states, and by the 1920s it had understood that as long as teams made enough protected seats available to meet reasonably anticipated demand, they had met their duty of reasonable care to spectators and could not be held liable for most foul ball injuries to them. Now known as the Baseball Rule, this holding remains good law in many states today, even after comparative negligence became the primary doctrine of tort law in most states. In the 21st century, it has come under increasing criticism as outdated both legally and in relation to baseball.[5]

"Jim Crow" ball[edit]

Hispanic, black and white Americans have all played baseball since the sport began. In the early days of the sport, integrated teams were not uncommon, with players of color able to play alongside their white counterparts.

However, dating back to as early as 1867, the racism of the post-Civil War era crept into the national pastime.[6] Jim Crow laws were present from Reconstruction into the 1960s and in some instances applied directly to baseball, relegating black players to the Negro leagues while whites played in Major League Baseball. However, segregation in MLB began to end with the signing and debut of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.


It cannot be denied[neutrality is disputed] that early baseball law was lax compared to the standards of today. As with so many other examples, the development of baseball law mirrors the arc of America's history at large. Despite the many cases and legal examples, historians Robert M. Jarvis and Phyllis Coleman have suggested that "early baseball was a lawless place, just like America itself."[7]

Baseball and the legal profession[edit]

Innumerable American lawyers and judges have played baseball – amateur or professional – since the game coalesced in the 19th century. Perhaps the iconic legal publication regarding baseball is the article "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule", written by Philadelphia attorney William S. Stevens and published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 1975.[8]

Five of the ten Commissioners of Baseball have been lawyers:

Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Name Lifetime Law School
Kenesaw Mountain Landis 1866–1944 Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
Happy Chandler 1898–1991 University of Kentucky College of Law
Bowie Kuhn 1926–2007 University of Virginia School of Law
Fay Vincent 1938– Yale Law School
Rob Manfred 1958– Harvard University Law School

Several major league managers are known to have attended law school:

Branch Rickey
Name Lifetime Law School
Jim O'Rourke 1850–1919 Yale Law School
John Montgomery Ward 1860–1925 Columbia University Law School
Hughie Jennings 1869–1928 Cornell University Law School
Jack Hendricks 1875–1943 Northwestern University Law School
Miller Huggins 1878–1929 University of Cincinnati College of Law
Branch Rickey 1881–1965 University of Michigan Law School
Muddy Ruel 1896–1963 Washington University School of Law
Tony La Russa 1944– Florida State University College of Law
Dave Fultz

Some other MLB players who practiced law after their playing careers:

Name Lifetime
Robert Murray Gibson 1869–1949
Dave Fultz 1875–1959
Fred H. Brown 1879–1955
Moe Berg 1902–1972


  1. ^ Jarvis, R. M. and Coleman, P. Early Baseball Law, 45 American Journal of Legal History 117 (2001).
  2. ^ Jarvis, R. M. and Coleman, P. Early Baseball Law, 45 American Journal of Legal History 117, 123-24 (2001)
  3. ^ Jarvis, R. M. and Coleman, P. Early Baseball Law, 45 American Journal of Legal History 117, 123-24 (2001)
  4. ^ Crane v. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co., 153 S.W. 1076 (Mo. App. 1913).
  5. ^ Nathaniel Grow and Zachary Flagel, "The Faulty Law and Economics of the 'Baseball Rule'", 60 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 59, 63–64 (2018).
  6. ^ George Kirsch, "Blacks, Baseball and the Civil War," The New York Times (New York, NY), Sept. 23, 2014.
  7. ^ Jarvis, R.M. and Coleman, P. Early Baseball Law, 45 American Journal of Legal History 117, 130 (2001)
  8. ^ Aside. The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule, 123 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1474 (1975)



  • American League v. Chase, 86 Misc. 441 (N.Y. Misc. 1914) ("NY Supreme Court Opinion". Retrieved 9 May 2017.)
  • City of Anaheim v. Angels Baseball LP (2005) ("California Court of Appeals unpublished decision" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 April 2007. Retrieved 9 May 2017.)
  • Federal Baseball Club v. National League, 259 U.S. 200 (1922)
  • Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972)
  • Gardella v. Chandler, 174 F.2d 919 (2d Cir. 1949) ("Court of Appeals Opinion". Retrieved 9 May 2017.)
  • Metropolitan Exhibition Co. v. Ward, 9 N.Y.S. 779 (1890) ("New York Supreme Court Opinion". Retrieved 9 May 2017.)
  • Philadelphia Ball Club, Ltd. v. Lajoie, 202 Pa. 210 (1902) ("Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion". Retrieved 9 May 2017.)
  • Popov v. Hayashi (2002) (California Superior Court)
  • Toolson v. New York Yankees, 346 U.S. 356 (1953)
  • United States v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, 532 U.S. 200 (2001)

Further reading[edit]

  • Abrams, Roger (1998). Legal Bases: Baseball And The Law. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1566398909.
  • Banner, Stuart (2013). The Baseball Trust. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-993029-6.
  • Davies, Ross E., It's No Game: The Practice and Process of the Law in Baseball, and Vice Versa (November 20, 2009). Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 249–296, 2010; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 09-58. Available at SSRN: [1].
  • Ham, Eldon L., Aside the Aside: The True Precedent of Baseball in Law: Law the Residue of Luck -- Or, Who's Not on First? Marquette Sports Law Review, Vol. 13, p. 213, 2003. Available at: [2].
  • Jarvis, R.M. and Coleman, P. Early Baseball Law, American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 45, p. 117, 2001.
  • Minan, John H.; Cole, Kevin; editors (2009). The Little White Book of Baseball Law. ABA Book Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60442-100-2. {{cite book}}: |first2= has generic name (help)
  • Oldfather, Chad M., The Hidden Ball: A Substantive Critique of Baseball Metaphors in Judicial Opinions, Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 27, p. 17, 1994.
  • Schiff, Louis H.; Jarvis, Robert M.; editors (2016). Baseball and the Law, Cases and Materials. Carolina Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-61163-502-7. {{cite book}}: |first2= has generic name (help)
  • Silvia, Thomas V., Baseball as a Source of Judicial Thought and Construction, Michigan Bar Journal, Vol. 78, p. 1296, 1999.
  • Waller, Spencer Weber; Cohen, Neil B.; Finkelman, Paul; editors (1995). Baseball and the American Legal Mind. Garland Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-8153-2057-4. {{cite book}}: |first3= has generic name (help)
  • Yelnosky, Michael, If You Write It, (S)He Will Come: Judicial Opinions, Metaphors, Baseball, and "The Sex Stuff", Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 28, p. 815, 1996.
  • Zelinsky, Aaron S.J., The Supreme Court (of Baseball), Yale Law Journal Online, Vol 121, p. 143, 2011.
  • Zollmann, Carl, Baseball Peonage, Marquette Law Review, Vol. 24, p. 139, 1940. Available at: [3].

External links[edit]