‘You could teach an entire law school curriculum and use nothing but baseball'
By Gary Blankenship
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”
So wrote French philosopher Jacques Barzum in a 1954 book, “God’s Country and Mine.”
Maybe he should have written that whoever wants to know about American law should learn baseball.
That’s the approach taken by a Broward County judge and a Nova Southeastern law professor who have just published Baseball and the Law, a 1,040-page textbook intended to spark teaching the subject at law schools, and just maybe provide some entertaining and educational reading for the baseball-afflicted lawyers.
“You could teach an entire law school curriculum and use nothing but baseball,” said the judge, Louis Schiff.
The gamut runs from labor issues (the first players union was organized in the late 1800s by a player/lawyer), building stadiums, antitrust, domestic violence, women who have shaped baseball (including women sports writers getting into locker rooms), civil rights (integrating baseball), marketing, game-related injuries to fans, movies, and numerous other topics.
“There’s a case out of Missouri about a flying hot dog,” Schiff observed.
The story of how the two authors, one a Yankees fan and the other a Mets aficionado, who live in the same small Broward County town, came to collaborate is like some of the lore in their book.
Robert Jarvis, the Nova Law professor, sits on the advisory board of Carolina Academic Press, which publishes legal textbooks. Jarvis had already written several textbooks, including one on sports law, as well as numerous articles (including one titled, “Legal Tales from Gilligan’s Island”).
“They came to me and said, ‘We’d like to do a baseball book,’” he said.
So he began to look around to see what was available. He found there were a few baseball law courses — the University of Michigan had one, as did the University of Virginia and Rutgers. When he was a law professor, Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill had taught one at the University of Arkansas. So had Alan Dershowitz shortly before he retired from Harvard.
But while each instructor assembled a list of reading materials, there was no textbook.
“Putting together materials is a daunting, daunting task. It takes forever. That’s why most of these types of elective courses never get off the ground,” Jarvis said.
One of the courses Jarvis found in his research was at Mitchell Hamline School of Law taught in the summer by one of its alumni: Judge Schiff. He had also taught similar courses at the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies. Although they both grew up in the New York City area and live in the same town, the two didn’t know each other. Jarvis reached out and proposed working together on the new book,
“That began a two-and-a-half-year journey of staying up to 2:30 at night, researching and writing,” Schiff said with a laugh.
Noted Jarvis: “Lou likes to use law to teach baseball; I like to use baseball to teach law.”
It was a congenial task.
“I played baseball as a kid. It was the thing to do growing up in New York. You were either a Yankee fan or a Mets fan, and I was a Mets fan,” Schiff said. “As a kid, we would take the Long Island Railroad into Shea Stadium.”
Schiff’s family moved to south Florida when he was a senior in high school, and after graduation, he wound up as a journalism major at the University of Florida. For his last two summers there, he managed to finagle a summer internship with the Yankees minor league team in Ft. Lauderdale.
During his second stint, he was in charge of the team’s public relations and came up with such promotions as “Broken Bat” night. He also worked that year with Hank Steinbrenner, son of legendary Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner, and who was learning the business by spending the summer with the Ft. Lauderdale team.
The elder Steinbrenner flew his son and Schiff to Yankee Stadium that summer for old-timers weekend and inquired of Schiff’s plans after he graduated. He offered him a job in the Yankee’s public relations department.
Schiff discussed that with his father. “His best advice was, ‘If you want to work for the Yankees, work for them after you finish law school.’”
So instead of New York, Schiff wound up in St. Paul, MN, at Hamline (now Mitchell Hamline) School of Law. After graduation, he returned to Broward County and practiced both in small firms and solo before practicing with now circuit Judge John Bowman. He did commercial litigation, represented Mack Trucks and his family’s music store, did guardianship and probate litigation, and some family law. He was president of the Tamarac Chamber of Commerce.
In 1990, Schiff became a traffic court magistrate and six years later, he was elected as a Broward County judge, has been reelected since, and has served as president of the Florida Conference of County Court Judges. His interest in baseball continued. He’s a season ticket holder for the Miami Marlins, and has thrown out the first pitch for one of their games.
He has been an adjunct professor at Hamline as well as other colleges in Florida and developed the baseball course in 2013. While on the faculty of the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies, he taught two courses: The Judiciary Steps Up to the Plate: How Professional Baseball and the Courts Have Impacted America as well as Court: A Lot More Like Baseball Than You Thought: Rules, Fairness, Rights and Calling the Close Ones.
Like Schiff, Jarvis grew up an avid baseball fan, although for the Yankees. He graduated for Northwestern University in 1980, got his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 and his LL.M. from New York University in 1986. He has been teaching at Nova since 1987. He has been a prolific author and lecturer, writing numerous articles and 21 books. Baseball and the Lawis the 10th time he has been co-author of a legal textbook. He has also served on numerous ABA and Florida Bar committees.
For all of his writing experience, Baseball and the Law is different, he said. For one thing, it was written as sort of a speculation project. There is no particular high demand for a book on baseball law because the courses are so few. The book is aimed at changing that.
“There are 8,000 law professors and you have to think there are 200 who like baseball enough that if they had the book, they would teach the course,” Jarvis said. “There are no courses because no publisher wants to do a book and there is no book because there are no courses.”
He pointed to a book Carolina Academic Press did on animal law and noted a few years ago courses on that subject were rare. Now about half the law schools have courses on animal law.
The baseball book was a monumental task.
“We looked at, without exaggeration, 5,000 cases to pick the 108 that are in the book,” Jarvis said. “More are in the notes and are in the table of cases.”
One fan of the book is former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Best Harding, who is reading the tome to do a review for the June Florida Bar Journal, and describes himself as not a hardcore fan of the game.
“I enjoy baseball, but I did not grow up in a town where there was a major league baseball team and never lived in one,” he said. “I found this book absolutely fascinating from the standpoint of the many areas in which the law has become involved in baseball. . . .
“They print the cases, but they give the notes that happen to illuminate why the case was brought and what happened after the case. I cannot imagine the amount of time and research that these guys put in.”
The baseball book has an accompanying 250-page teachers’ manual. Jarvis said that’s intended to help instructors customize the course from one to three credits.
“Our book will easily accommodate as big or as small a course as you want to teach,” he said.
How successful do they hope to be? Jarvis said that will take time to determine. At a textbook price of $120 (it’s a bit cheaper on Amazon), they don’t expect it will find its way into a lot of nonlegal readers’ hands. But they say a lot will depend on the reception at law schools and by law professors.
The two authors also think there may be a small demand by baseball-addicted lawyers who buy the book for themselves or as gifts.
“In the law school publishing world, the model is if you can sell 500 copies of the book, you’ve been successful,” Jarvis said. “If you can sell 1,000, you break out the champagne.”
So it may be a case of, to paraphrase the baseball movie Field of Dreams, “If you write it, they will come.”
(Or as a footnote in the book itself notes, the actual quote is, “If you build it, HE will come.”)