Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Appellate History and Baseball

Lately, with PBS showing Ken Burns' The Tenth Inning (2010), I have been thinking about his earlier documentary series, Baseball (1994), and one story in particular. It involves the Supreme Court, a former justice as advocate, two federal circuits, baseball, and ultimately, ARod's salary.

In 1970, St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood challenged Major League Baseball's reserve clause, which had "kept players tied to their teams year after year unless traded or sold." The suit alleged antitrust and other violations.

Flood lost at all levels: the federal district court, Second Circuit, and Supreme Court, although represented by Arthur Goldberg, a former Supreme Court justice (resigned in 1965). Oral argument audio is linked here. Jackie Robinson, then retired, and others, testified for Flood below in the district court. No active players were willing to take the risk.

Although Flood did not prevail, and never played baseball again, he was a trailblazer. Only a few years later, "other baseball players successfully [challenged] and broke from the reserve system." The landmark ruling, known as the Seitz decision, came from a three-person panel: arbitrator Peter Seitz, plus player and owner representatives. Seitz and the player rep sided with the players (and the owners promptly fired Seitz).

After the federal district court and Eighth Circuit upheld the Seitz decision, and a new collective bargaining agreement was reached, baseball entered a new era of player empowerment. Some say the pendulum has swung too far, resulting in sky-high player salaries.

See Ken Burns' Baseball, Ninth Inning (includes commentary by Curt Flood, who died in 1997).