Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Baseball and the Supreme Court

I imagine Bud Selig, commissioner for life, brooding in his Milwaukee estate over the sudden decline in his political fortune. For eight years, the president of the United States was a man who had once been a member of Bud's little fraternity, the owner of a major league team. And now the new president has appointed to the Supreme Court the very judge who, in 1995, told Bud and Co. that they couldn't impose a new contract on the players, that they had to negotiate with the union.

Sonia Sotomayor may or may not have "saved baseball," as President Obama suggested Tuesday in nominating her. But she is a baseball fan (her team is the Yankees), and as such fits in a long court tradition. Samuel Alito, currently the most junior member of the court, is a noted Phillies fan, for example.

One famous story about baseball and the court centers on Potter Stewart, a fan of the Cincinnati Reds. On Oct. 10, 1973, the Red and New York Mets were playing the deciding game of the NL Championship Series — a day game. The court was hearing oral arguments.

Stewart and fellow justice Harry Blackmun had the clerks provide them with inning-by-inning updates on the game. As the lawyers droned on, the clerks would hand the justices memos with the score.

One said: "V.P. Agnew resigns! Mets 2, Reds 0." (The memo was circulated among the full court and eventually made its way into Blackmun's official papers.)

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