Legal Bases

Baseball and the Law

Roger I. Abrams
Philadelphia Book Clinic Certificate of Award, 1999
Book Cover

PB: $32.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-890-9

HC: $29.50
EAN: 978-1-56639-599-1
Publication: Feb 98

240 pages
6 x 9

An accessible, insightful look at how baseball and salary arbitration are shaped by law

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).


On June 12, 1939, in dedicating the Baseball Hall of Fame, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis proclaimed: "I should like to dedicate this museum to all America, to lovers of good sportsmanship, healthy bodies, clean minds. For those are the principles of baseball."

The game of baseball mirrors our history, our identity, and our culture. And, if baseball is the heart of America, the legal process provides the sinews that hold it in place. It was the legal process that allowed William Hulbert to bring club owners toghether in a New York City hotel room in 1876 to form the National League, and ninety years later it allowed Marvin Miller to change a management-funded fraternity of ballplayers into the strongest trade union in America.

But how does collective bargaining and labor arbitration work in the major leagues? Why is baseball exempt from the antitrust laws? In Legal Bases, Roger I. Abrams has assembled an all-star baseball law team whose stories illuminate the sometimes uproarious, sometimes ignominous relationship between law and baseball that has made the business of baseball a truly American institution.

Leading off in Abrams' lineup is Monte Ward, the hall of Fame pitcher-shortstop and graduate of Columbia Law School who organized the first baseball union. After Curt Flood's valiant, but doomed, effort in federal court, Andy Messersmith strikes out the reserve system in arbitration. And in the ninth inning, pinch-hitter Judge Sonia Sotomayor drives in the winning run of the 1994 major league players' strike.

Along the way, Abrams also examines such issues as drug use and gambling, enforcement of contracts, and the rights of owners and managers. The stories he tells are not limited to his official lineup, but include appearances by a host of other characters—from baseball magnate Albert Spaulding and New York Knickerbocker Alexander Joy Cartwright to "Acting Commissioner" Bud Selig and Jackie Robinson. And Abrams does not limit himself to the history of baseball and the legal process but also speculates on the implications of the 1996 collective bargaining agreement and those other issues—like intellectual property, eminent domain, and gender equity—that may provide the all-star baseball law stories of the future.


"Dean Abrams has been teaching both sports law and labor law for many years. He is the co-author of a major scholarly treatment of labor arbitration. Abrams is also the kind of writer who can relate personal anecdotes in a conversational style that brings the technical issues in sports labor law alive for the lay reader who wants to understand what lies behind the controversies that occupy so much of the sports pages in the media…. there will be a significant market for this book, not only among students in law schools, business schools, and other institutions where the subject is taught, but also among the more sophisticated baseball fans." Paul Weiler, Harvard Law School

"The book reflects its author's experience as a baseball salary arbitrator, balancing anecdotes with antitrust analysis and overviews of the collective bargaining process. Wearing lightly his notable learning, Abrams writes with verve and intelligence." The New York Times Book Review

"Abrams is astute and unflinching in his judgments, yet shows admirable balance...Also, he obligingly explains many terms often used but seldom understood (in relation to baseball), and makes clear many subtle distinctions, such as that between arbitration and mediation. Interesting and illustrative, this is a book every thinking sports fan should read."Kirkus Reviews

"Fans usually intimidated by legalese but interested in the complex web of the baseball business should welcome this accessible primer. Abrams succeeds in presenting in a lucid and entertaining fashion the legal challenges to baseball's reserve clause, arbitration system, ownership collusion and the commissioner's powers." —The Washington Post

"As dean of Rutgers Law School, baseball salary arbitrator and sincere grassroots fan, few have Abrams qualifications for writing on baseball and the law. The book is organized around 'nine men and one woman who played pivotal roles in its history. They constitute our "All-Star Baseball Law Team." ' ' The "team' (apparently the 10th player is justified by the designated hitter rule) is chosen to illustrate important principles of baseball and law dating from the 19th century (John Montgomery Ward) through the reserve clause challenge (Curt Flood) to baseball's crimes (Pete Rose). ...the book will serve as a valuable reference for the ardent baseball student." Publishers Weekly

"Legal Bases presents readers with a vibrant example of why and how collective bargaining occurs, and the involved legal processes. But there is more. The book also gives baseball enthusiasts a coherent understanding of the history and role of major league collective bargaining in an appealing format. It may even provide readers who are not baseball fans with a reason to take an interest in the game." Monthly Labor Review

"Learning the story of baseball is akin to studying the Bible: one can spend years, indeed a lifetime, and make barely a dent in the seemingly boundless array of literature on the subject.... In any case, Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law is a good starting point for one's quest to know more about how baseball came to its current condition, whatever one perceives that condition to be." Michigan Law Review

Table of Contents

1. The Legal Process at the Birth of Baseball: John Montgomery "Monte" Ward
2. The Enforcement of Contracts: Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie
3. Baseball's Antitrust Exemption: Curt Flood
4. Collective Bargaining: Marvin Miller
5. The Owners and the Commissioner: Branch Rickey and Charles O. Finley
6. Labor Arbitration and the End of the Reserve System: Andy Messersmith
7. The Collusion Cases: Carlton Fisk
8. The Crimes of Baseball: Pete Rose
9. Baseball's Labor Wars of the 1990s: Sonia Sotomayor
Bibliography Index

About the Author(s)

Roger I. Abrams is a major league baseball salary arbitrator who has arbitrated cases involving Ron Darling and Brett Butler. He is also Dean and Richardson Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law and has taught and written in the field of sports law for more than a decade. He is the author of The Money Pitch, also published by Temple University Press.