Sports Law and Pushing the Legal Envelope:
Legislators vs. Reporters


Game rules get forgotten even by players who demand the rest of us remember them. People we vote for so they can loudly write laws for all of us — laws that can tap our wallets and drag us into court — and people who hold them to account in the press sometimes, uh, slip up.

City Councilmembers played softball against journalists and, this time, the journalists won. And, usually, familiar rules would apply. But the City Council, doubtless well versed in the law, voted to “override the result.” That’s according to The New York Times, in . The rule of law was in effect by then. The Council drew on precedent, the reversing of Mayoral vetoes, and that would have put the vetoed legislation into statute, so, presumably, the softball score was not rendered void but was changed to a score favoring the Councilmembers’ team. Since the Council meeting was in a suburb and not in the city which Councilmembers represented, I don’t know if there was jurisdiction for the vote. If there was not jurisdiction, the Council acted unlawfully. By so acting, it was purporting to engage in the compensable performance of its duties, thus seeking compensation for an unlawful act, which would be against public policy and likely an outright violation. If there was jurisdiction, the rules of the game were likely violated. If players had not explicitly agreed on a completely stated suite of rules, were the matter litigated presumably a court would have had to determine the intent of the parties and it is unlikely that any Councilmember planning a reversal vote since before the game began would have shared the plan with enough other members early enough to cause half of all of the players to be aware of that plan as part of the rules of that particular game. So, a violation likely occurred.

Robbery was alleged at the baseball game. The umpire, said The Times, was “a model of impartiality” according to reporters present, because he “never failed to call strikes on the Councilmen”, even when a ball “sailed” over the batter’s head, “well out of reach even with a stepladder.” Councilmembers who objected were threatened with fines and ejection by said umpire. Beer kegs “suddenly went dry”, so the game was ended early. Councilmembers alleged that reporters had already set the score for the next year’s game.

Kidnapping of the scorekeeper at the baseball game was described in The Times as a “cime” (sic). Unofficial scores ranged from 11–0 for one side to 13–0 for the other. The Commissioner of Accounts promised to “start” an investigation. (A meal arranged by the reporters included seaweed from Afghanistan, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The umpire was late in and “no one kept account of the runs or the errors, which were many,” although The Times’ subheadline called the baseball game a tie.

And more strikes could be interesting. At one softball game, the umpire, who also was the Mayor, called a pitch that went behind the batter’s knees a strike, a pitch that went over the batter’s head a strike, and a pitch that hit home plate a strike. The batter with the three honors was the City Council President. This was in , before cellphone video was invented.

Umpires got some attention in , when “[they] were removed after almost every inning” in baseball and a supervising umpire was appointed, one “Secret Service Billy” Flynn.

I did not investigate news reports of the other games, which likely were annual.