Today in the New York Times, let’s play “spot the traditions that never were”
In a sport that clings to its traditions — from managers wearing uniforms to the playing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch — one time-honored feature at the ballpark has taken an absurd turn, at least for the game’s purists: the ceremonial first pitch. For decades, the honor was extended only a few times a season to a rarefied group that included presidents, mayors and military veterans. These days, it is regarded as a marketing opportunity, a sweetener in sponsorship deals between baseball teams and groups that want a piece of the spotlight.
The real tradition in baseball is managers wearing suits, ties, starched collars and bowler hats and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has largely been diminished by the “Sweet Carolines” and “God Bless Americas” of the world. Why should the first pitch, then, be so sacrosanct?
And I dunno, maybe I just go to different ballparks than the Times writers do, but ever since I can remember there have been first pitches — often multiple first pitches — by boy scout troops, Grand Poobahs of various lodges and no small amount of car dealers who later use a still shot from the game to PITCH you the best deals. GET IT?!
Maybe, on the whole this is a newer thing. Given that 85% of the people in the ballpark are still trying to buy beer and find their seats when the first pitch comes — and given that on either side of the first pitch are promotional announcements and bad pop music — I’m having a hard time getting worked up about this so-called sacred tradition being sullied.
A couple of years ago umpire Angel Hernandez sued Major League Baseball alleging racial discrimination. The suit has chugged along quietly since then and we’ve not paid it much notice, but Sheryl Ring of Fangraphs has and she has a fascinating update from it that will be of interest to both law and labor geeks.
The short version: Major League Baseball wants to obtain records of communications between Hernandez and the umpire’s union, most likely to see if Hernandez ever brought up discrimination claims to his union before filing the suit. The league also wants the union’s own internal evaluations of the job Hernandez does on the field. MLB hopes to be able to undercut Hernandez’s arguments that he was discriminated against via these records.
That all makes sense, but it led to a side battle involving where the lawsuit should take place and whether MLB can get those records based on the law of said forum of the lawsuit. Hernandez sued in Ohio, which recognizes a privilege protecting worker-union communications. MLB got the suit moved to New York, however, and such a privilege is not recognized there. Earlier this week MLB got the New York court to agree that the union records should be handed over.
This is a big deal for Hernandez’s suit, obviously, but it has some pretty big implications for later lawsuits involving unionized employees in general. Oh, and as Ring explains, a screwup by Hernandez’s lawyers may have contributed to this outcome. Which, well, bad calls happen sometimes, right?
Go read Ring’s entire update here for a full, clear explanation that clear and easily understood even by the non-lawyers among us.