New Marquette Law School Sits Near the Site of Milwaukee’s First Major League Ballpark

eckstein-renderingIt is a little known fact that Eckstein Hall will occupy part of the site of Milwaukee’s first major league baseball park. The park, which was used during the 1878 season, lay to the east and south of the new law school, and were it still there, the windows of Eckstein would provide a perfect view into the facility.

Major League Baseball first came to Milwaukee in November of 1877 when the West End Club of Milwaukee was admitted to the two-year old National League. As a member of the professional League Alliance the previous season, the Milwaukee club had played at its own park at 34th and State, but once it was admitted to the National League—already accepted as the premier baseball league in the United States—its board of directors decided to build a new park closer to downtown.

The new park was constructed on a site on the opposite side of Clybourn from Eckstein Hall which had been used the previous year as the grounds for the Milwaukee Cricket Club. The park itself extended from 10th and Clybourn in a southwesterly direction to Clermont (12th) Street.

The new facility opened on May 14, 1878, with a seating capacity of approximately 4000. In its first home game Milwaukee, off to a slow start with a 1-5-1 record after games in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, knocked off the previously unbeaten Cincinnati Reds, 8-5. The next day’s Milwaukee Daily News carried a detailed account of the game including the following observations: “The weather was all that could be asked, and the crowd in attendance was large. The best classes of our people were represented, and many ladies graced the occasion by their presence. The home club appeared in splendid condition, and were clad in their gray uniform. The Cincinnati boys were exceptionally fine-looking, and made a very jaunty appearance in their white uniforms.”

In its second game, played on the 16th, the locals beat Cincinnati a second time, 12-8, and climbed out of last place for the first time that season. The team unfortunately lost its next three home games before defeating Indianapolis 10-7 on May 25 to close out its initial home stand with a 3-3 record.

Alas, the 1878 season turned out to be anything but a success for Milwaukee. After the May 25 victory, the team lost 37 of its next 48 games and never won more than two games in a row. It finished with a 15-45-1 record, good for last place in the six-team league. Even more disappointing was the team’s home attendance which declined as the season progressed, and as residents of the Cream City lost interest in their losing nine. Poor attendance let the team to reschedule a number of its home games in the parks of its opponent in July and August, and by the end of the season the club had played ten more games on the road than at home.

Although the team was able to fulfill its on the field commitments to the National League, it was clearly teetering toward bankruptcy when it completed play with a 4-3 home field victory over Providence on September 14. In December, the team was expelled from the National League for failing to meet its financial obligations, and in January of 1879, the park’s “grand stands, seats, fences, etc.” were sold at a sheriff’s sale to satisfy an unpaid judgment of $135.61. The park itself was used by amateur teams for the next several years before apparently being abandoned as new facilities became available in the city.

Milwaukee baseball historian Denis Pagot’s detailed account of Milwaukee’s first major league ballpark by can be found here.

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Does Baseball’s Antitrust Immunity Extend to Baseball Card Contracts?


The baseball antitrust exemption has turned out to be one of the great anomalies of American law.  First recognized in the Supreme Court’s Federal Baseball decision in 1922 at a time when “commerce” was understood much more narrowly than it would be in the post-New Deal world, the exemption took on a life of its own in the 1953 Toolson decision when the Supreme Court acknowledged that professional baseball was commerce after all but that it was leaving the matter of invalidating the exemption to Congress.  In 1972, the Court reasserted the exemption in Flood v. Kuhn, and Congress reaffirmed it in 1999 in the Curt Flood Act in regard to all matters covered by the exemption except major league labor relations.

While there is no question that the Major League Baseball antitrust exemption still exists, it is not at all clear what aspects of the baseball business are protected by the exemption.  Does it apply to any undertaking by Major League Baseball, or is it limited to certain baseball-specific activities? Comments made by my colleague Matt Mitten in an interview presented elsewhere suggest that Matt believes that the exemption applies to all aspects of the professional baseball business.

I am not sure that this is true.  A quarter of a century ago the federal district court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the baseball antitrust exemption did not extend to restrictions on broadcasting.  (Henderson Broadcasting Corp. v. Houston Sports Ass’n, Inc, 541 F. Supp. 263, 265-72 (S.D. Tex. 1982))  So far as I can tell this decision has never been overruled or even directly contradicted by a decision of a different court. Although the Supreme Court has provided no definitive answer, the conventional wisdom appears to be that the exemption applies only to matters central to the “business of baseball.”  This was the standard adopted in the relatively recent case, Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177, 1183 (11th Cir. 2003).

Of course this interpretation just replaces one question with another.  We still have to ask what aspects of the baseball business are “central” to its operation, and as of yet, we have no definitive answer.  Clearly territorial monopolies, minor league salary caps; and restrictions of minor league player mobility are central to the operation of baseball, but what else falls into this category?

Now Major League Baseball has gone and entered into a contract with Topps, Inc., giving that company the exclusive right to use Major League team names and logos with in the production of baseball cards. Topps’ primary competitor in the baseball card market, Upper Deck, can still issue baseball cards of players under its non-exclusive license with the Major League Baseball Players Association, but it will not be permitted to use team names or symbols on its cards.  As a practical matter, this will probably force the company out of the baseball card business, at least until Topps’ exclusive license expires.

It is hard for me to see how the production of baseball cards by an independent company could constitute an activity “central to the business of baseball.”  There was a time when baseball cards were a primary way that fans, particularly young fans, learned about the teams and players of Major League Baseball, but in the age of the Internet, it is hard to believe that baseball cards are in anyway a necessary component of marketing Major League Baseball to the public (if they ever were).  Consequently, the new Topps monopoly will likely to be found to be subject to antitrust challenge.  Whether or not the challenge will succeed is a topic for a different post.

On an entirely personal note, I have extremely fond memories of the old Topps baseball card monopoly that existed from 1956 to 1980.  In that period, only Topps produced baseball cards, and the cards were printed on cheap cardboard, packed to the gills with information about the pictured player not otherwise readily available, and packaged with super sweet sticks of bubble gum.  Even with the gum, they were incredibly inexpensive—a penny a card until the late 1960’s, and less than two-cents a card until the late 1970’s.

There were almost no baseball card shops in that era, so cards had to be purchased by the pack in regular stores that sold candy.  If you were missing a player’s card that you felt you needed, you had to buy more packs or else figure out a way to trade with a friend who had a card of the player you wanted. Many kids learned the rudiments of negotiation from such exchanges.

In fact, the only problem with the old Topps monopoly was that it wasn’t a true monopoly.  Fleer, which competed with Topps in the larger bubble gum market managed to sign a few well-known players including a handful of stars—Ted Williams, Maury Wills, and Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell (who was later a congressman from North Carolina) for example—but the company never had enough players under contract to produce its own bubblegum based player set.  In 1962, the year he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player, the only way to get a Maury Wills baseball card was to find one on the back of a Post Cereal box.

Because the Topps monopoly only applied to cards packaged with bubblegum or its equivalents cards could be marketed with other products, although that rarely happened.  (The Post experiment of putting baseball cards on cereal boxes only lasted for three years.).  In that era, no one thought of simply marketing the cards alone.

If the new Topps monopoly can somehow bring back the magic to baseball card collecting, then it will be a restraint of trade that we should gladly accept.

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Yankees and New York Decide to Settle First Amendment Case

yankeesfanLast month the City of New York and the New York Yankees baseball club decided to settle rather than litigate a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled fan who was ejected from a Red Sox-Yankees game in August of 2008, ostensibly for refusing to stay in his seat during the playing of God Bless America.

Had the case gone to trial, it could have raised complicated First Amendment questions relating to the ability of a municipally owned stadium to regulate unpopular political speech and symbolic gestures on the part of its patrons.

The ejected fan, Bradford Campeau Laurion, shown above, a 29-year old resident of Queens, New York, was represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Under the reported terms of the settlement Campeau received $22,000, $12,000 of which went to the NYCLU for legal services.

Although the details of the incident are still a matter of dispute, Campeau has consistently asserted that he was not trying to make a political statement and that he left his seat during the playing of God Bless America only because he was desperate to go to the bathroom after drinking two beers. Campeau was attending the game with a friend who was a Yankee season ticket holder.

When Campeau left his seat he was confronted by a New York City police officer who insisted that he would have to remain in his seat until the song was finished. Campeau claims that he told the policeman, “, ‘I don’t care about God Bless America. I just need to use the bathroom” and that in response to that statement the policeman and one of his colleagues pinned his arm behind his back and escorted him to the front entrance of Yankee Stadium where he was evicted into the street. According to Campeau, on the way out the policemen told him to “get out of their country if I didn’t like it.”

The officer told a different story, insisting that the ejection had nothing to do with the song. According to his account, Campeau was observed “standing on his seat, cursing, using inappropriate language and acting in a disorderly manner, while reeking of alcohol.” According to the officer, he “decided to eject him rather than subject others to his offensive behavior.” The accuracy of this description is disputed by Campeau and his friend, the season ticket holder.

The settlement contained no confession of liability and, in fact, included a stipulation whereby the plaintiff agreed that the City and the Yankees had the right to regulate the conduct of fans during the singing of God Bless America and at other times. Although Campeau insisted that he was unaware of the policy, the Yankees had, prior to the game Campeau attended, adopted a policy of requiring patrons to remain in their seats during the playing of the National Anthem and God Bless America.

In spite of this concession, New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman pronounced that “[t]his settlement ensures that the new Yankee Stadium will be a place for baseball, not compelled patriotism.” Christopher Dunn, NYCLU associate legal director and lead counsel in the case added: “Neither the Yankees nor the NYPD can force people to engage in acts of political loyalty. As a result of our lawsuit, fans can now go to a ballgame at Yankee Stadium knowing they will not be subjected to NYPD-enforced patriotism.”

A more cynical observer might conclude that the point of the case is that one should plan on going to the bathroom in Yankee Stadium during the playing of God Bless America. The bathrooms should be easily accessible, and if you get thrown out for leaving your seat you can cash in your ticket for $10,000.

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