Supreme Court and Baseball
By Jennifer M. Lowe
Director of Programs and Strategic Planning
The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on baseball and anti-trust law began in 1922 with a unanimous ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League that holds to this day. But the Court’s relationship with baseball isn’t just through its cases. The men and women who have served on the Court included committed baseball fans.
Justice William Rufus Day served on the Court from 1903 to 1922. His devotion to baseball was renowned. He would leave the Court after oral argument and go straight to the ballpark to watch the Washington Senators play. During both the 1910 and 1912 World Series, his devotion to the game was evident in the task given to a page, who slipped a piece of paper to the Justice with the score every half inning. The note would then be passed down the bench for every Justice to get an update on the score.
This note passing continued with Potter Stewart, a devoted Cincinnati Reds fan, receiving updates on the National League playoffs in 1973. One note includes the update that “Mets 2, Reds 0. V.P. Agnew Just Resigned!!” He passed this down the bench. A short time later a second note read, “1/2 Innings Gone Mets 2 Reds 0, NBC News is the Source of the Agnew Story.”
William Brennan’s introduction to his colleagues on the Supreme Court came during the 1956 World Series opening game. Chief Justice Earl Warren quickly introduced him to the other justices, who then returned to watching the game on a television set placed in the Conference Room.
Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, a long-time labor lawyer, represented Curt Flood in his suit seeking free agency and the end of the reserve clause in baseball. But Justice Goldberg was a native of Chicago and a lifelong Cubs fan. Even when running for governor of New York his allegiance to the Cubs was in evidence. He attended a Mets-Cubs game with columnist Jimmy Breslin in an effort to establish his bona fides as a New Yorker. His cover was blown when he asked if he could get his picture taken with Cubs legend Ernie Banks.
The late Justice John Paul Stevens was a renowned Cubs fan. He loved telling the story of being in the stands for Babe Ruth’s “called shot” game in the 1932 World Series. He said a highlight of his life was being invited to throw out the opening pitching at a Cubs game in 2005. He saw his beloved Cubs win the World Series in 2016, attending Game 4 in person at Wrigley Field.
The very first ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day was thrown out by then-President, and future Chief Justice, William Howard Taft. at a Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) game on April 14, 1910. He continued the tradition the following year.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw out the first pitch at the Washington Senators game in 1937, a plane flew overhead with a banner reading “Play the game, don’t pack the Court” referencing FDR’s proposal to expand number of seats on the Supreme Court.
Today’s Supreme Court has at least a few confirmed baseball fans on the bench. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a confirmed Yankee fan—she threw out the first pitch at a game at Yankee’s Stadium in 2009 and sat in “The Judges Chamber” for a game in 2017, in the section named for outfielder Aaron Judge. She again took the mound to throw the opening pitch at a Nationals game during their 2019 season.
Justice Samuel Alito is a Philadelphia Phillies fan and the justices invited the Phillie Phanatic to the welcome dinner they hosted when Justice Alito joined the Court. Justice Elena Kagan is a New York Mets fan and Justice Brett Kavanagh roots for his hometown Washington Nationals.
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