Craig Calcaterra

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 7, 2004 file photo, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks to Presbyterian Christian High School students in Hattiesburg, Miss. On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, the U.S. Marshall's Service confirmed that Scalia has died at the age of 79. (Gavin Averill/The Hattiesburg American via AP)
Associated Press

Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court and baseball


Supreme Court Justice Scalia passing away over the weekend has pretty much dominated the news cycle for the past couple of days. We’ve had remembrances, both approving and disapproving, and no small amount of talk about the politics of replacing him. Indeed, every whack-job with an Internet connection and a Tumblr account has felt the need to run off at the mouth about that stuff.

It was inevitable, then, that the subject of Scalia’s sports fandom would come up eventually. The Baltimore Sun has that today, noting that Scalia was a Yankees fan who would go to games at Camden Yards. And though he died in the presidential suite at an exclusive resort which he reached via a chartered airplane, he wouldn’t get the VIP treatment when it came to baseball. He’d just go to games, sit with the normal folk and enjoy “a beer and a sausage.” He also said he wasn’t much of a football fan, which just goes to show you that even your most ardent political opponents can make a heck of a lot of sense about certain things so you should never dismiss them out of hand.

All of which is a reminder that the Supreme Court and baseball fandom seem to go hand-in-hand. Maybe it’s a lawyer thing. Lawyers love rules and order and baseball has more rules and less chaos than other sports. Maybe it’s just because most justices are older and hang around forever and, until very recently, they all came of age when baseball was still the most popular sport in America. Indeed, Justice John Paul Stevens, who is still alive and was on the court until 2010, actually attended the 1932 World Series between the Cubs and Yankees. And not in one of those “I was a baby on my mother’s hip and they tell me I was there” ways. He was 12-years-old and claimed he saw Babe Ruth call his shot.

It’s not just Scalia and Stevens, of course. Lots of justices have either been notable fans or, in some cases, have played a notable part in baseball history.

Everyone knows — or should know — about the Supreme Court’s most famous baseball-related case. Indeed, the court’s decision in the case is one of the most important events in baseball history and has shaped the way the game is run to this day. The case was 1922’s Federal Baseball Club v. National League, where the Court rules that federal antitrust laws did not apply to baseball because, in the deranged mind of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the other eight justices, “the business is giving exhibitions of base ball” is not interstate commerce. Though that has been called an outcome-oriented “aberration” (Holmes was looking to help baseball owners), Scalia probably loved at least part of that case, given that in 1995 he was on the majority in the first case in 60-some years to similarly limit the Commerce Clause.

The most recent court decision that had a major impact on baseball didn’t come from the Supreme Court, but it did come from a current Supreme Court justice. That came in 1995, during the infamous 1994-95 strike. The owners, unable to break the MLBPA, hired a bunch of scab replacement players and unilaterally imposed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The players sued and Judge Sonia Sotomayor — now Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor – of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, putting the kibosh on the replacement players scheme. That broke the owners’ will, the sides came together, the players went back to work and, eventually, reached a deal. Sotomayor, like Scalia, is a big Yankees fan. Sometimes I wonder if using the replacement players gambit the NFL used and, in essence, running an end-around the union offended Sotomayor as both a judge and a baseball fan and she smacked MLB for pulling that lesser-sport stuff.

Other justices are noted for their baseball fandom too. A fun New York Times article from a few years back informed us that Justice Kagan is a big Mets fan. Justice Alito is a huge Phillies fan who had the Phillie Phanatic as a guest at a party once. The best bit from that article is how, during oral arguments before the court which took place during the 1973 National League Championship Series, Justice Potter Stewart passed a note to Justice Harry A. Blackmun which read “V.P. Agnew just resigned!! . . . Mets 2 Reds 0.”

I don’t know who Obama is going to pick to replace Scalia or whether the Republicans in the Senate are going to follow through with their threat to shoot down anyone nominated for the job, sight-unseen. All of that seems like a mess. But I do hope that whoever, eventually, becomes the ninth Supreme Court justice, he or she is a baseball fan. With the added hope that he or she convinces everyone that, yeah, maybe they should go back and reconsider Federal Baseball Club v. National League.

Chub Feeney wishes you a Happy Presidents Day


There is nothing happening in baseball today, so let’s talk about Presidents Day. But not presidents of the United States. Let’s talk about league presidents.

Younger fans may not realize that there used to be separate presidents for each league, but there were. Until 1999 anyway, when Major League Baseball combined the leagues administratively and made them distinct in name only. After that there were honorary league presidents: Jackie Autry and then Frank Robinson have been the honorary AL presidents since that time and Bill Giles is the honorary NL president. Robinson and Giles don’t really do anything other than assist Rob Manfred with whatever he’d like them to assist on and, I presume, hand over the LCS trophy to the winning team each year. Maybe they wager a crisp $5 bill on the All-Star game. Who knows?

But league presidents used to do things like impose discipline for events which happened in their respective leagues, chair the caucus of owners from their league and have final say on matters that affected only one of the two leagues. That last bit brings to mind one of my favorite league presidents. If, that is, it makes any sense to have a favorite league president. If you have to have one, though, you could do worse than Chub Feeney, the man pictured above, who served as NL President from 1969-1986.

Feeney got his start with the Giants, who were owned by his grandfather, Charles Stoneham and, subsequently, his uncle Horace Stoneham, in a dynasty which lasted from 1919-1976. Chub was a batboy at first and then moved into the front office after serving in World War II. He was instrumental in baseball operations from the late 1940s until 1969. In his time, the Giants were built into a World Series champion in 1954, NL pennant winners in 1951 and 1962 and consistent competitors in most other years. He was in on the decision to bring in Leo Durocher and to revamp the Giants’ organization via the signing of several black and Latino stars at a time when teams were still not doing much of that. I’ve not read enough about Feeney to know how much of this was based on his belief in equality and how much of it was mere smart baseball thinking, but whatever was in Feeney’s heart on these matters, in exploiting an inefficiency born of their competitors’ racism and/or fear of fan backlash, Feeney and the Giants were, fundamentally, practicing “Moneyball” 50 years before Billy Beane became famous for it. There are always inefficiencies to exploit, you know. Signing Willie Mays, Orlando Cedpeda and the Alous is WAY more impressive than making Scott Hatteberg into a first baseman in my view.

Feeney could’ve and maybe should’ve been the new commissioner of baseball in 1969 when Spike Eckert was canned. The NL owners voted for him unanimously. AL owners, however, supported another candidate and there were 17 deadlocked ballots. In a compromise, the owners agreed on Bowie Kuhn, who had been the NL’s general counsel. Compromises make everyone a little unhappy. This one made everyone a lot unhappy in the long run. Feeney, as a consolation, was named NL president. Once he took over the gig he was more or less resigned to the sort of anonymity most league presidents experienced outside of having their name, and not the commissioner’s name, printed on the baseballs. Feeney did do one notable thing, however, repeated in all of his obituaries: he kept the DH out of the National League, rallying the NL owners to his view of that still-controversial matter.

But for all of the things Feeney did with the Giants and while leading the NL, my favorite story came from his last job in baseball. He stepped down as president in 1986 and in 1987 he was named the Padres president. He wasn’t able to help rebuild them like he did the Giants 40 years before, but he certainly went out with a bang.

Unpopular as a result of the Padres’ losing ways, on September 24, 1988, many Padres fans came to the park for the Astros-Padres game with signs demanding Feeney’s firing or replacement. Things like “Scrub Chub” and the like. At one point, as fans chanted stuff at him, Feeney did what any man of pride and accomplishment might do in his situation: he flipped ’em the bird. Unfortunately, his freedom rocket was caught on the Padres’ TV cameras. And, to make matters worse, it was Fan Appreciation Night at Jack Murphy Stadium. Feeney may have been a man of pride and accomplishment, and he may have been exercising his First Amendment rights, but he was not exactly appreciating the fans. Feeney resigned the next day. He passed away at the age of 72 in 1994.

I’m not saying I’d necessarily flip off a bunch of Padres fans if they started yelling at me, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it either. That’s especially true if I was someone who did a whole heck of a lot in the game of baseball for years and if I was having a less than wonderful night at the ballpark. All these years later it’s hard to blame old Chub for that. There but for the grace of God go any of us, really.

Anyway, happy Presidents Day, Chub. You were number one. No, the other one.

What a time to be alive: a minor league team will wear an emoji jersey


The Kalamazoo Growlers play in the independent Northwoods League. Like a lot of independent teams, they are big on promotions and stuff. Like a lot of minor league teams, affiliated or independent, they like to do novelty jerseys.

We’ve seen Star Wars-themed promotions and jerseys. Lego. If there has been something pop culture related in the past five years or so, you can bet that some team as donned uniforms depicting it. Now the Growlers are poised to wear jerseys that are probably about as pop-cultury as it comes. Emoji jerseys:

What a time to be alive.