Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The United States Supreme Court Nominee and Major League Baseball

The United States Supreme Court Nominee and Major League Baseball

By Evan Weiner

May 26, 2009

11:00 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) --- On March 31, 1995 in a New York courtroom, Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor made Major Baseball League history. She ended the Major League Baseball strike which started on August 12, 1994. More than 14 years later, the New York-native has become the first Hispanic woman ever to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court. President Barack Obama's nominee will be on a skewer for the next few months as the United States Senate debates her credentials. If Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who is one of Washington, D. C.'s most active lobbyists, had his way, he probably would prefer some other nominee. In 1995 Federal Justice Sotomayor not only ended the baseball strike but she also supported the National Labor Relations Board's unfair labor practices complaint against the owners. Selig, then Acting Commissioner of Baseball, was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Another one of those owners was the Governor of Texas, George W. Bush who was the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers when the strike began. The players took their complaints to President Bill Clinton's appointed National Labor Relations Board, a panel which was friendlier to labor than the panels of President Ronald Reagan or President George H. W. Bush and on March 27, the board sided with the players that the owners were involved in unfair labor practices. The players said if a judge supported the NLRB's finding, they would go back to work. By April 2, the players were in spring training.Justice Sotomayor's career will not be judged on the basis of one decision on March 31, 1995 nor should it be by the United States Senate but she did show she wasn't intimidated by what was then 28 of the most powerful business people in the world. She followed the law.She also extended the owners losing streak in labor dealings. The owners had favorable dealings with the United States Supreme Court. In 1922, the highest court in the United States gave Major League Baseball an antitrust exemption because baseball was a game not an interstate commerce venture in finally deciding the Federal League's Baltimore Terrapin suit against the then eight National League owners. In 1950, New York Yankees minor league pitcher George Toolson was unhappy with New York's decision to demote him to the Eastern League's Binghamton Triplets farm team and refused to report to the central New York state minor league club. Toolson thought he was good enough to pitch in the big leagues and decided to sue baseball to get out of his contract so he could shop his services around and find someone who wanted him. Toolson's lawyers argued that baseball's reserve clause, which tied up a player for life with the club that signed him or a club that acquired his services, was a restraint of trade and that baseball should not be exempt from antitrust laws. Toolson v. New York Yankees was heard in 1953 by the United States Supreme Court. The nine justices upheld the 1922 Supreme Court decision, 7-2, the antitrust exemption. Toolson was the first player to challenge the reserve clause which prevented free agency to the highest court in the United States. Under a system started in 2003, a Minor League player can now shop around his services after six years if he is not on a Major League 40 man roster.Toolson ended his baseball career as a footnote in history. The Toolson case was not the last challenge to the workings of Major League Baseball.In October 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a deal that would Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Hoerner from St. Louis to Philadelphia in exchange for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. For a myriad of reasons Flood decided not to report to Philadelphia and on December 24, 1969 wrote a letter advising all Major League Baseball clubs that he had the right to shop his services around before signing with Philadelphia. That wasn't the case under baseball rules and Flood, with the help of the Major League Baseball Players Association, decided on January 16, 1970 to sue Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball for violating United States antitrust laws. The case went through the judicial system and went before the United States Supreme Court.The court sided with Major League Baseball in 1972 upheld the 1922 decision by a five to three margin in the case. It was the last time Major League Baseball owners would win one. Three years later, Major League Baseball's reserve clause was eliminated when an arbitrator, Peter Seitz, ruled that Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who had played the 1975 season without contracts could become free agents. Seitz's ruling undid the reserve clause and led to an agreement between the owners and players that made players free agents after the equivalent of six full major league seasons.Major League Baseball owners and the players saw two strikes in the 1980s, the 1981 and 1985 seasons. Major League owners were found guilty of colluding to keep players salaries suppressed following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons and were forced to pay a $280 million settlement to the players in 1990. It has been widely speculated that Major League Baseball expanded in 1991 to Denver and Miami in part to get the United States Senate, particularly Florida Senator Connie Mack III and Colorado's Tim Wirth, off of the industry's back to preserve the antitrust exemption and also use the expansion monies to pay off the settlement.The 1994-95 strike was the last time Major League owners and the players failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement and had a work stoppage. Judge Sotomayor restored Major League Baseball's old collective bargaining agreement with her ruling. She ordered the owners to restore free-agent bidding, salary arbitration and the anti-collusion provisions of baseball's expired collective bargaining agreement.On September 29, 1995 a three-judge panel in New York voted unanimously to uphold Judge Sotomayor's injunction.Should Justice Sotomayor be confirmed by the Senate and take her place on the high court, it is very unlikely she will ever see a challenge to what remains of the Major League Baseball antitrust exemption from a Major League player asking for free agency. The Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1997 was introduced on the first day of the 105th Congress in 1997 by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan), which was intended to remove baseball's antitrust exemption concerning labor. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced similar legislation in the Senate that year and called it, ”The Curt Flood Act of 1998."The Curt Flood Act of 1998 was signed into United States federal law on October 27, 1998 by President Bill Clinton. eweiner@mcn.tv

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