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Stories about Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s saving baseball have been inundating the media since President Obama nominated her on Tuesday to SCOTUS. There is no doubt that her ruling in supporting the National Labor Relations Board's request for an injunction was crucial in April 1995 because replacement players (or scabs if you come from a union family) were ready to take the place of the regular major leaguers as the August 1994 strike spilled over into spring training.

Today May 29th is the anniversary of another big moment in baseball labor history. On this day in 1922 Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled for a unanimous court that baseball was sport and not commerce and therefore was entitled to an exemption from anti-trust laws. The case had been brought by owners of the Baltimore Terrapin Federal League franchise that had been left out of the 1916 settlement ending the third league’s attempt to break the monopoly of the American and National League. It was this decision that was upheld in the 1953 case of minor leaguer George Toolson’s suit against baseball for being demoted in the Yankees chain and the more famous 1972 case where Curt Flood’s suit protesting his trade by the Cardinals to the Phillies was denied.

I have been reading and thinking a lot about the issue of anti-trust in baseball because next Thursday I will be participating in a panel “Trust, Anti-Trust and Curt Flood” at the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. It is a rich topic because it involves so many issues of law and culture and baseball.

One abiding fascination I have about Branch Rickey is the stark contrast between his progressive and innovating ideas on race, baseball technique and living an adventurous life and his Old Guard views on the propriety of the baseball contract and the old reserve system. It is obviously true that Rickey profited from the system that denied free agency to players. But he genuinely believed that without a reserve system of controls there would be chaos and a lack of tradition and continuity in the game. Trust in one’s stuff as an individual player and trust in one’s team and organization were always paramount considerations for him.

Near the end of his life Rickey was hired by Cardinals owner Gussie Busch as a consultant and thus he knew and admired Curt Flood as his kind of speedy and aggressive player. However, there can be no doubt that Rickey wouldn’t have approved of Flood’s lawsuit and the ascendant role of the Players Association who backed and funded the case. Rickey died in December 1965 only three months before Marvin Miller arrived on the scene so those titans of organization and self-possession never met, Mr. Compassionate Conservative Republican and Mr. Iron (and USSteel) Trade Unionist. It is a very interesting speculation as to what would have happened if Rickey in his prime had ever encountered Miller in his prime. More on this train of thought after I return from Cooperstown.

Baseball labor history stimulates me at times but nothing compares to the action on the field. The current major league season is wild and unpredictable, the way I like it. As we approach June, only the Washington Nationals in the NL East are hopelessly buried in the basement. With the exception of the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, every one of the other 27 teams is within single-digits of first place. Let the games go on and the beautiful illusions continue. Some of them may even come true. Ciao for now!

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