Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court and baseball

Associated Press
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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.