Friday, May 24, 2024

Infield fly interference double play (Updated Twice)

A wild ending to last night's Orioles-White Sox game. It offers a new entry in the Berman/Friedman "jurisprudence of sports" canon and a nice example of all the problems when the public (including "the media") discusses law.

The White Sox have 1st/2d-one out in the bottom of the ninth. The batter hits a fly ball on the infield grass. Orioles shorstop Gunnar Henderson, stationed behind second base, moves to the ball. He momentarily stops and goes around Andrew Vaughn, the runner on 2d, as he retreats (slowly) to the bag; Henderson gets under and catches the ball. The second-base ump calls infield fly, putting the batter out. The third-base umpire calls Vaughn out for interference, ending the game on a double play. Chaos and nonsensical indignation from the Sox announcers ensue and continues onto the interwebs.

From the 2024 Rulebook: Interference includes a runner who "fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball." § 6.01(a)(10).  The runner is out and the ball is dead. § 6.01 PENALTY. A comment to § 6.01(a) adds a "runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not." A separate rule defining fielder right of way imposes an obligation on all members of the batting team to vacate any space a fielder needs to field a batted ball. § 6.02.

The text of the rules undermines the immediate reaction of the Sox announcers and many online commentators screaming about how Vaughn did not intend to interfere, did not know where the ball or fielder were, did not try to interfere, etc. But intent not matter. The rule prohibits the batter not from affirmatively interfering with the fielder. It prohibits the runner from "fail[ing] to avoid" the fielder--it imposes an affirmative obligation to avoid the fielder and to clear the space for the play to be made. Vaughn failed to avoid--he stopped, located the ball, and walked back towards second as the shortstop runs from behind, but in a way that, even unintentionally, blocked Henderson's direct path to the ball. That is enough under the rule. White Sox manager Pedro Grifol recognized that the umps got it right but criticized the rule's lack of intent requirement. Similarly, that Henderson caught the ball with ease does not matter--the rule does not require successful hindrance or apply only if the interference prevented the fielder from making a play.

Some open issues.

1) I cannot tell from the video whether there was contact between fielder and runner or whether the problem was that the runner hindered the fielder by making him change direction in going towards the ball. It does not matter to the rule. But the third-base umpire who called interference and the crew chief conflicted on this--the crew chief said the runner made contact, while the ump who made the call said it did not matter whether he made contact, only that Henderson had to move around him. The call is correct either way, but it helps to have the facts right.

2) Update: I completely revised this point because I got it so wrong. I initially wondered whether the order of the calls (interference and infield fly) matters--if the ump called interference first, the ball would be dead and the batter cannot be out on the infield fly. The answer is no, because of the IFR--and shame on me, having literally written the book on this, for getting it wrong. A comment to the definition of IFR provides:

If interference is called during an Infield Fly, the ball remains alive until it is determined whether the ball is fair or foul. If fair, both the runner who interfered with the fielder and the batter are out. If foul, even if caught, the runner is out and the batter returns to bat.

So interference operates differently on a potential infield fly play than it would on another play. The order of the calls does not matter. The runner is always out. And the IFR overrides the ordinary interference rule and puts the batter out, at least if the ball is fair (this ball was in the middle of the infield and unquestionably fair). Again, shame on me for not remembering that piece of the IFR. Thanks to Mike Dimino for setting me straight. And for further proof the umps got the call right.

3) The Sporting News published an article purporting to explain the play and the intersecting rules. It says the following about interference:

There are different levels of interference when it comes to baserunners.

Per MLB rules, players on the batting team, including coaches, cannot get in the way of a player trying to field a batted ball. However, the rule states that if interference takes place on a batted ball, only the batter is declared out. All other runners must return to their previous bases.

The only time a runner is declared out is when a player or coach interferes with the fielder's right of way to throw a ball. If so, the player for whom the throw was intended to get out will be ruled out.

The article links to a glossary on MLB's web site. Based on the information the article relies on, the call was wrong--the batter should have been out and the runners returned to their bases. But the definition in the glossary does not match the "fielder right of way" rule in § 6.01(b). Under that rule, the ball-is-dead/batter-is-out/runners-return provision applies to "a member of the team at bat (other than a runner)." Section 6.01(a) controls a runner who fails to vacate the right of way and calls the runner out. The Sporting News story never mentions § 6.01, nor does MLB's web site. And the web site does not accurately state the actual rule.

Reporters often do not go to the primary source of law (in this case, MLB Rules); they rely on shortcuts, such as summaries on a web site. This is sunderstandable, as most reporters are not trained in reading and parsing statutes. But MLB does not do itself any favors and fails to protect its umpires from inaccurate and unfair criticism by providing incorrect shortcuts.

Finally, some points about the jurisprudence of sports and how conversations about sports rules match conversations about the law.

1) We have the usual complaints about the game ending on the interference call, Berman's "temporal variance" in enforcing sports rules.

2) I cannot find the video, but at one point the Sox announcer demands that the crew chief step in and overrule the call. This wrongly accords the crew chief some power to overrule other umps' calls and to control what they do. We see the same thing in the demands that John Roberts "do something" about justices' ethical misbehavior--an erroneous assumption that the Chief is somehow the boss of the Court and of the other justices.

Further Update: MLB reportedly defenestrated the umps in a private communication with the White Sox, suggesting the umps were wrong in insisting they had no discretion and had to call interference as soon as they saw contact or a hindrance.

Further Further Update: A reader emails wondering why interference ever arises on an IFR--can the runner interfere with a fielder who need not catch the ball for the out. Recall that the runners can advance at their own risk on the play, which means the fielder usually wants to catch or at least control the ball to prevent runners from advancing. Absent thenterference rule, a runner has an incentive to keep the fielder from getting to the ball, giving his teammates an opportunity to advance if the ball is not caught, even if the batter is out.

Further Further Update: Another reader suggests that, if the ump had discretion, a non-call would have been appropriate here. The runner was in an impossible situation--he had to determination the location of the ball and the fielders, determine their path to the ball, and get to a spot that is out of their path and does not subject him to being doubled-off. That is a lot to ask of a runner.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 24, 2024 at 09:48 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2024

Ken Holtzman Z"L

Ken Holtzman, the winningest Jewish pitcher in MLB history, died Sunday. Holtzman won 174 games in a 14-year career with the Cubs, Oakland, and individual seasons with the Orioles and Yankees. Holtzman pitched two no-hitters with the Cubs and won three World Series with the A's, including the Series-clinching win in Game 7 of the 1973 World Series. He was the # 3 started on that staff (behind Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue), but the A's relied on him as much as the other two in big games. Among Jewish pitchers, he is first in wins, sixth in ERA, second in strikeouts, fourth in appearances, and first in innings pitched. He also homered in the 1974 World Series, the last then-acknowledged-as-Jewish player to homer in a World Series until Alex Bregman and Joc Pederson traded homers in 2017.

As I described, Holtzman plays a big role in the Jewish-players-on-Yom-Kippur story. He never pitched on the holy day. In 1966, his first full season in the Majors, Holtzman opposed Koufax the day after Yom Kippur when both pushed their starts back to avoid the holy day; Holtzman pitched a two-hit complete game, in a game he said his mother hope he would get a no-decision. Holtzman attended Yom Kippur services in Baltimore in 1973 when the holy day coincided with Game One of the ALCS. Another story is less uplifting. In 1977, the Yankees petitioned MLB to move a 1977 game from Yom Kippur day to the evening. They cited Holtzman's unavailability, although Holtzman appeared in 18 games that season (which some stories attribute to manager Billy Martin's antisemitism) and would not have pitched even if was at the park; Holtzman was not pleased at being used in that way.

Zichrono livracha.

Update: Howie Megdal's Baseball Talmud ranks Holtzman as # 2 lefty starter, # 3 starting pitcher, # 10 All-Time (after Koufax and a bunch of non-pitchers), and falling out of the top-ten if, by 2035, Alex Bregman and Max Fried continue the careers they have been having.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 15, 2024 at 04:13 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Final Four(s) (Updated)

Interrupting law for some sports, specifically the basketball Final Fours (Finals Four?) and a bunch of interesting story lines:

• First time that two schools have men's and women's teams in the Final Four--UConn and NC State.

• Two teams vying for historic standing--undefeated South Carolina women and UConn men vying for consecutive championships and taking a wrecking ball to their opponents (how did they lose 3 games during the season?).

• A major-conference Cinderella in NC State--would have missed the NCAA, went on an unbelievable run to win the Conference tourney and get the automatic bid, and continued a hot streak. It rhymes with (if it does not repeat) the school's run to the 1983 championship. The only thing missing was playing Houston, which they would have done in the Elite Eight had Houston's best player not been hurt.

• Alabama men make the Final Four for the first time in program history. And they do it the year after one of the program's historically best regular seasons led by one its historically best players, who left for the NBA after one season.

• Paige Bueckers (UConn) and Caitlyn Clark (Iowa) entered college the same year and both became instant stars on the court and off, raking in massive NIL money (far more than they will make in WNBA salary). Bueckers won all major national player of the year awards as a freshman and UConn beat Iowa on the way to the Final Four. But Bueckers missed most of the next two seasons with injuries, while Clark became the all-time scorer in Division I and all women's basketball history. I find the story of these players and how their stories and historical places have flipped interesting.

• On the court: A prospective UConn-Purdue finales between two huge, skilled-but-not-very-athletic back-to-the-basket centers--Purdue's 7'4" 300-lb Zach Edey and UConn's 7'2" 280-lb Donovan Clingan. Basketball isn't supposed to be played that way anymore.

Update: One more, on what these Final Fours lack: The lightning rod of LSU and coach Kim Mulkey and all the off-court controversy she carries.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 2, 2024 at 10:38 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Northwestern v. UConn

Northwestern, appearing in its third NCAA Tournament and second in a row, beat FAU 77-65 in OT in the first round. I was teaching during most of the game. I tuned in with a minute left and NU down two (I later found out we had gagged away a nine-point lead); saw us tie the game on a lay-up with 3 seconds left; then watched us blow FAU away in OT by making our first 9 shots (5 baskets and four FTs). The prize for the win is playing UConn--the defending national champion and # 1 overall seed. This is the first time Northwestern and UConn have ever played in basketball.

That brought me back to the spring of 1986, when I was a Northwestern-bound HS senior, planning to work as a student manager for the basketball team. Northwestern and UConn had coaching openings. Northwestern offered the job to Jim Calhoun, then at Northeastern. Calhoun declined, saying that while he is willing to build a program, good movement for Northwestern would be from 10th to 7th, which would not be good movement for Jim Calhoun. Calhoun took the job at UConn, coming off four seasons near the bottom of the (original) Big East. UConn went 9-19/3-13 (compared with Northwestern's 7-21/2-16) his first year. They won the NIT his second year (when the tournament, while no longer prestigious, did not have major-conference schools routinely decline invitations). And they lost on a buzzer-beater in the Elite Eight his fourth year. Meanwhile, Northwestern won 32 games (8 conference) in my four years, although I loved working for Bill Foster and his staff.

Calhoun also had NCAA problems, graduation-rate problems, and a big personality, so query how well he would have played at NU or whether he could have done there what he did at UConn. Still, my bit of personal history in anticipation of tomorrow's game.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 23, 2024 at 01:54 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2024

§ 3 of the 14th Amendment . . . and Baseball

I bet Gerard never thought of this angle:

Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center discusses the case of Victor L. Berger, a German-immigrant socialist elected to the House following an Espionage Act conviction. The House twice refused to seat Berger on § 3 grounds--following his initial election and then when he won a special election after the first refusal. SCOTUS overturned Berger's conviction in 1921, because the trial judge should have recused after making many derogatory and discriminatory comments about German immigrants.

The judge? Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Landis' reputation is shot, fairly or otherwise, for his (uncertain) actions around the integration of MLB in the 1940s. And here he is making another negative contribution to a major historical event.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 29, 2024 at 06:22 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Dan predicted the future of college sports

Catalyzing Fans (Harv. J. Sports & Ent. L. 2015) was Dan's last published paper, co-authored with Michael McCann (New Hampshire) and me. The paper was accepted several weeks before Dan's murder.

The topic and journal were ironic, since Dan did not know or like sportsball. He hatched the germ of an idea--fans crowdfunding to attract players to come to their favorite teams or to convince teams to sign and keep fan-favorite players--and came to Michael and me as people who do like and know something about sportsball. The proposal was marginally or indirectly practical when we were writing (2012-14). Marginally practical as to professional sports because actually player salaries dwarf whatever groups of fans can raise, meaning those funds are not likely to affect player or team choices (at least financially; perhaps the show of fan love has emotional effects). Indirectly as to college sports because players could not be paid for anything relating to their play or status as athletes; fan money could go to, for example, producing and distributing t-shirts to help recruit a star high-school athlete.

But then I learned about Michigan's One More Year Fund, which has been credited with helping retain many of the players who helped them win the college football national championship, and its new successor, the One More Year Fund, which raised more than $ 100,000 in three hours earlier this month. These funds operationalize Dan's idea--fans contribute any amount of money to a central committee that distributes the funds to players who, in this case, stay with the team rather than enter the transfer portal. And they have a direct and meaningful practical effect in college sports. Because players do not receive salaries from the universities and certainly not in the tens of millions annually, the hundreds of thousands or low millions that star players receive provide a meaningful income and thus a meaningful incentive to decide to return to the school.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 14, 2024 at 02:31 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2023

Rules Enforcement v. Rules Advisement

Here is a good one for the next edition of Berman and Friedman's The Jurisprudence of Sport:

The Kansas City Chiefs had nullified what might have been a game-winning touchdown on pretty great catch-run-and-lateral because a Chief receiver (the guy who scored the TD) lined-up offsides. (Photo and video in the linked story). Chiefs Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes were irate about the call after the game (this followed a loss last week in which a non-call on pass interference cost the Chiefs a meaningful chance to tie the game in the closing seconds). The outrage surprised me because (check the photo) the illegal formation is so blatant and obvious. And the official threw the flag as the play began, so he could not have known what would follow or what he was taking away. It could be a let-'em-play situation--under 2:00 in a 3-point game between potential Super Bowl contenders. But I never thought of offsides as a ticky-tack call akin to a foot fault or three-second violation on which refs swallow their whistles. (Compare that with, going back to the Chiefs, refs not calling PI on a hail Mary at the end of last week's game). Maybe offensive offsides (where the players gains a few inches down the field) is different from a defensive player jumping the snap.

It turns out Reid and Mahomes had a different complaint: The officials failed to follow their ordinary practice of advising offensive players, especially receivers, when they line-up offsides and giving an opportunity to correct. The ref explained that the receiver never looked to the official on the sideline for advice and that he was so far over the line that he blocked the view of the ball. The official was helpless--a blatant infraction and no opportunity to follow the soft practice and correct it; the practice does not include the official identifying the problem for the player.

These sorts of "warning" systems offer an interesting insight into how sports rules operate, especially with how officials avoid what are proceed as ticky-tack violations and ensure the players "decide the game." We can distinguish two types of "warning" systems. This one works on request--the player looks to the official for a preliminary ruling to ensure compliance before the official can make a formal call, but the official is not expected to warn the player sua sponte. For others, the ref is in constant communication with the player, without awaiting that request. For example, NBA refs constantly talk to players jockeying in the post about the 3-second violation, warning them to step out of the line when it gets close (which is really at 5 seconds rather than 3). Batters and umpires did a similar dance for years over delays in getting into the box, with the umpire reminding the player about speeding it up when necessary; MLB switched to a formal clock in 2023 when that informal warning system proved ineffective at furthering the policy of moving the game along. It might be interesting to explore which practices develop for which rules and why. The latter cannot work with the offsides call at issue in the Chiefs game--a football field is too large and too loud.

I am trying to think of legal-system analogues to this sort of pre-ruling advice. One is how judges (sometimes) treat pro se civil litigants, advising them on how to proceed and how to correct pleading defects. Another is the informality of discovery, where some judges encourage informal communications between chambers and lawyers and how discovery should proceed, especially when disputes or deadlines arise. And we see that distinction at work--the judge reaches out to help pro se litigants, while the judge still waits for parties to reach out on discovery issues, even if the judge will resolve them without a formal ruling.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 11, 2023 at 03:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Intentional drop rule

This is a moot point since the Rangers beat the Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS Monday to advance to the World Series. But I was confused by something announcer Jon Smoltz said twice during Game 6. On two occasions, an Astros hitter batting with at least two on and less than two out hit a soft line drive (what we sometimes call a "humpback liner," often hit off the end of the bat) that Rangers shortstop Corey Seager caught. Smoltz encouraged Seager to intentionally not catch the ball and turn a double play on the base runners retreating to the bases. I am not sure what Smoltz wanted and there was a lot cross-talk, so he never fully explained. Or he was picking up on something he said earlier in the telecast and I missed it. Either way, he seemed disappointed that Seager and other shortstops did not try this.

Smoltz correctly pointed out that the infield fly rule was not in effect on either play because the balls were not hit high enough; the IFR excludes line drives. But a separate rule (enacted in its current iteration in 1975) prohibits infielders from intentionally dropping a fair fly ball or line drive in the same IFR situations. So Seager could not catch-and-drop or knock down these easily playable balls, unless he could sell it well enough to fool the umpire. Maybe Smoltz believed that, given how softly the balls were hit, Seager could have run backwards onto the shallow outfield grass and let the ball land at his feet and still start the double play (or catch the ball when he saw the baserunners take off.

IFR and Intentional Drop complement one another to eliminate the "cheap" double play. IFR excludes line drives because an uncaught line drive, unlike an uncaught pop-up, does not fall at the infielder's feet; it continues moving forward into the outfield for a hit. The intentional drop rule requires that an infielder inclined to attempt this play cannot catch-and-drop or knock down an easily playable batted ball of any kind. The infielder must intentionally not catch (as opposed to intentionally drop) the ball, which is harder with a liner than a pop-up. Maybe this exposes a hole in the rules, although a relatively uncommon one. Or Smoltz did not know what he was talking about.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2023 at 10:25 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 13, 2023

Creating a better baseball post-season

A break in a bad week for some sports frivolity:

Baseball's LCSs are set--the 90-win Astros against the 90-win against the 90-win Rangers in the AL, the 90-win Phillies against the 84-win Diamondbacks in the NL. Five teams won more than 90 games this year (Braves, Orioles, Dodgers, Rays, Brewers); all are out. The Astros are the sole remaining division winner (they tied with the Rangers and were named division winner based on head-to-head record, baseball having eliminated one-game playoffs). They are the sole remaining team that received a first-round bye. And none of the division series went the full five games; two (Diamondbacks and Rangers) swept teams that won at least ten more games during the regular season.

Since introducing non-division winners into the post-season in 1995, baseball has struggled to calibrate its system to serve multiple needs--create late-season excitement, give multiple teams hope, incentivize and reward regular-season success, and create a a format that identifies the "best" team of a given season. Baseball's uniqueness creates some issues. It has the longest regular season, producing a sufficiently large sample size to separate teams by quality. At the same time, the best teams lose 40 % of their games and probably lose three in a row, or 3-out-of-5 or 4-out-0f-7 at some point (maybe several points) in the six-month season. That means any team can win a short series and upsets become more likely. (A play-off series accurately reflecting the regular season would be best-of-75).  And at least this year, it appears the first-round bye--the sole reward for winning a division and having one of the two best records in the league--cooled good teams off rather than giving them beneficial rest (the Braves, who had one of the best offenses in baseball history, scored 8 runs in four games).* Meanwhile, teams that played in the first round got hot.

We are in the early days of the latest format, so it will take time to see how this system performs over several years. Meanwhile, my baseball research side wants to go through results back to 1903 to see how often the post-season winner reflected the regular season and how much that has changed through various post-season iterations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 13, 2023 at 07:38 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Life without the Infield Fly Rule

(H/T: Michael Risch, I think from last season).

Video here; a YouTuber's analysis of why the ump erred in failing to invoke.

The play illustrates why we have the IFR. The ump almost certainly did not invoke because the ball was not high enough. The commentator argues that height alone should not matter. It was not a line drive and landed directly in front of the shortstop who barely had to move, thus implicating the rule's purposes (or evils).

One other thing as you watch the play: The best move for the runner on second, recognizing non-invocation, is to retreat to second base and hope that the second baseman catches the flip and steps on the bag before tagging him. Stepping on the bag puts out the runner on first, but removes the force, allowing the runner on second to remain. But the runner must have the wherewithal to process that in an instant. And the second baseman must have the wherewithal to stay off the bag while catching the flip, tag the runner, then step on the bag--and to process that in an instant. So there are "counters" to the intentional non-catch, but none that players can reasonably pull off.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 30, 2023 at 02:35 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Shabbat Shalom

We celebrated the beginning of Shabbat last night with a pitching match-up of Dean Kremer of the Orioles (member of Team Israel) and Max Fried of the Braves (best Jewish pitcher since Ken Holtzman, if not yet Koufax). A six-inning pitchers' duel ended when Fried fell apart in in the 7th and the Orioles scored 7 runs (5 off Fried, including two homers). Kremer gave up 6 hits and struck out 3 in six innings, for his third win of the season. Fried had been untouchable in three starts since coming off the DL and continued that run for about six innings; his E.R.A. jumped from below 1.00 to 2.08.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 6, 2023 at 08:51 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 17, 2023

A Jewish NBA star

NBA star Domantas Sabonis of the Sacramento Kings is converting to Judaism. He and his Jewish wife keep Kosher and Passover and observe Shabbat (within the confines of an NBA season).

This could be interesting. I think Sabonis is, right now, the third-best Jewish NBA player in history, behind Dolph Schayes and Amar'e Stoudemire (converted in retirement but his career counts as "Jewish" under the Steve Yeager/Joe Horlen Principle). Sabonis is in his seventh year in the league, has made three All-Star teams and should be All-NBA this season. And it could be fun to watch him hopefully stay healthy and climb that ladder. After all, Schayes could not play in today's NBA and Stoudemire struggled with injuries the last five years of his career.

Domantas is the son of Soviet legend Arvydas Sabonis who played seven excellent seasons in the NBA, but whose best years were lost behind the Iron Curtain. Here is a fun story about Arvydas and his connection to legendary LSU coach Dale Brown.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 17, 2023 at 09:12 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Two Jews in the starting rotation?

The Atlanta Braves placed started Kyle Wright on the IL and announced that rookie Jared Shuster will begin the season in the starting rotation. Shuster is Jewish. Which means 2/5 of the Braves starting rotation--Shuster and staff ace Max Fried--is Jewish. Since most Jewish pitchers in recent history have been relievers, I am pretty sure this is a historical first. Gilten Alter indeed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 26, 2023 at 04:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Whither Division III?

A current and a former basketball player at Brown filed a class action  suit, challenging the Ivy League's agreement/policy not to award athletic scholarships as an antitrust violation.

To our readers with antitrust knowledge: If successful, how does this not eliminate the NCAA's Division III, comprised of smaller, mostly private, heavily liberal-arts college and which prohibits athletic scholarships? If a conference-wide policy against scholarships violates the law, how can a nationwide policy not violate the law?

Comments open.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 14, 2023 at 07:02 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 03, 2023


I stopped watching football about seven years ago. I reached a point that I could no longer watch and enjoy what had become gladiatorial. And I watched and read enough to believe that, given the game's nature and object, they could not make it "safe" or even "safer." Too many hits, large and small. I was done.

That said, I do not regard what happened to the Bills' Damar Hamlin as further evidence of football's unsafe nature. The collision between Hamlin and the Bengals' Tee Higgins was not unusually hard (for football). Some cardiologists speculate he suffered "commotio cordis"--cardiac arrest arising from an impact to the chest during a miniscule (40 millisecond) point in the heart's electrical cycle. Watch the play and the theory makes sense. Hamlin is standing someone upright and moving sideways when Higgins, moving forward, leads should-first into Hamlin's chest; Hamlin wraps his arms around Higgins and pulls him to the ground. But the point of contact between the two was the middle of Hamlin's chest.

This injury is neither unique nor common to football. It is more likely in baseball and hockey, especially among young players--taking a ball or puck to the chest at that vulnerable moment in the cardio cycle. And even then it is incredibly rare--15 or 20 cases per year, according to a 2017 story--and less common among adult athletes (something about the hardening of the chest wall as the body matures). At worst, it is a risk inherent in all sports. Not another reason (as if I need more) to turn away from football.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 3, 2023 at 09:43 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 16, 2022

Infield Fly strikes again

Writing about the Infield Fly Rule produced one key takeaway--it is everywhere. Once we see what defines the play and warrants a rule change--unexpected action, substantial advantage and exclusive control to actor, inability to counter--it is easy to find other sports responding to similar plays with similar rules changes.

The NFL offers the latest example. It "reinterpreted" a rule to prohibit teams from holding the ball on top of (as opposed to on) the kicking tee on kickoffs. This placed the ball an extra 1/2-inch off the ground (1 1/2" inches rather than 1"), allowing the kicker to get under the ball more and gain more height and hang-time on the kick, allowing the coverage team to get downfield quicker for shorter returns. And it worked--the Raiders' opponents averaged more than four yards fewer per return than league average.

This possesses all the features of the infield fly situation--teams ordinarily place the ball on the tee rather than on top of it; the kicking team controls how the ball is placed on the kick-off; it gives them what appears to be a substantial advantage on the play; and the receiving teams cannot counter the play because the coverage team's extra running head start overwhelms even the best blocking-and-return schemes. This is what leagues impose limiting rules (or limiting interpretations) to eliminate that unusual play and thus the extraordinary advantage.

The NFL did not explain the reinterpretation in these terms. It said the practice produced the same effect as using a 1.5" tee, whereas the rulebook limits tees to 1". Still as Deadspin says, it is hard to believe the league would have cared unless it produced a meaningful one-way benefit and incentivized other teams to do the same.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 16, 2022 at 12:12 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Jewish baseball update

Max Fried finished second in NL Cy Young voting, finishing far behind the Marlins' Sandy Alcantara, who won all first-place votes. Fried becomes the third Jewish pitcher not named Koufax to finish top-two in Cy Young voting (along with Steve Stone's 1980 win and Joe Horlen's 1967 second-place finish).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 17, 2022 at 08:57 AM in Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 04, 2022

Adjectives and verbs

When Donald Trump ran for President in 2016, there was a lot of talk about whether he was racist, which allowed him to defend himself by insisting he is "the least racist person" anyone has ever met. I wrote a post at the time arguing that it was a mistake to speak of whether some one "is ____," as opposed to whether the person "does ___ things." Stated differently, it is the difference in the law of evidence between "who someone is" and "what someone does." The former is unhelpful because it is impossible to look into someone's soul, it can be repeated as an insult, and it is too easy for them simply to deny that is "who they are." The latter allows us to evaluate conduct--the policy you propose would treat Muslims differently than other religious groups. Even if you are not a racist, you advocate a policy that is (whether in purpose or effect) racist.

This is playing out in the kerfuffle over the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving's tweets promoting a movie containing antisemitic ideas and messages. The Nets suspended Irving on Thursday and he apologized late on Thursday. That apology comes after several days of refusing to do so, which he explained as "I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled Anti-Semitic." That is, he resisted when the framing was who he is rather than what he did--posting something and promoting a movie containing false and antisemitic statements. Again, a more useful framing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 4, 2022 at 03:00 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 31, 2022

Alex Bregman in World Series

Game 3 of the World Series was rained out, with the teams tied 1-1. Alex Bregman homered in Saturday's Game 2; this was his sixth career World Series home run, most among Jewish players, one more than Hank Greenberg (and Joc Pederson).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 31, 2022 at 09:53 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2022

A World Series request

One game of the upcoming World Series must have 

the Phillies wear this: Images










And the Astros wear this: Astros_retro_original











Wearing those uniforms, the Phillies beat the Astros in the best-of-5 1980 NLCS* 3-2, a series in which four games went into extra innings.

[*] The Astros joined the NL (as the Colt-45s) in 1962. They moved to the AL beginning in 2013 to establish two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions. Of course, that re-balance was necessary because the Brewers had switched from the AL to the NL in 1998, a move that Commissioner Bud Selig engineered to help the team he had owned for 20+ years and that his daughter ran.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2022 at 01:04 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Revisiting the Koufax Curse

The Forward published my essay revisiting the Koufax Curse. The piece updates my 2020 study (conclusion: Teams still lose when their Jewish players play and should lose more); considers performance for 2022 (YK 5783) (conclusion: Relievers had a rough day); and revisits whether Max Fried would have pitched on Yom Kippur had the NL East been on the line.

Five teams with Jewish players are in the Division round. Fried got rocked in Game 1 of the Braves-Phillies series and will pitch a deciding Game 5 Sunday if the Braves can come back to win Game 4 (losing 4-2 in the 6th inning). Bregman has several key hits as the Astros staged two come-from-behind wins to lead their series with the Mariners 2-0. Relievers Scott Effross (Yankees) and Eli Morgan (Guardians) and back-up catcher Garrett Stubbs (Phillies) have not appeared.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 15, 2022 at 04:19 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Franchise: Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur

The new podcast The Franchise: Jews, Sports, and America, hosted by Meredith Shiner, dropped its first episode, on Sandy Koufax and Jews playing on Yom Kippur. I discuss my Koufax Curse study (around the 11:00 mark).

I learned one new thing: Max Fried was one of the cursed in 2019. Pressed into first-inning relief when the Braves' starter surrendered four runs, Fried was almost as bad, giving up another four earned runs in less than two innings of work. According to journalist Jeff Schultz, Fried was fasting when he entered the game. He had anticipated that he would not be needed to pitch until later in the game, after sundown and the opportunity to eat something before taking the mound. Other pitchers make a similar Yom Kippur compromise--going to the park, dressing, and being available to pitch while fasting.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 13, 2022 at 08:54 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 03, 2022

The Fried Curse?

A potential Jews-in-Baseball moment on the horizon this week.

The Braves lead the Mets by two games in the NL East with three games to play; the Braves' magic number is one. The Braves also own the tiebreaker--if the teams finish tied, the Braves win the division. But suppose the Mets win the next two games and the Braves lose the next two; the teams are tied entering the final game of the season, to be played at 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday--Yom Kippur.* Braves ace Max Fried would be scheduled to pitch and would be the guy the Braves want in a seeming must-win game. Will he pitch? And if he does, can he overcome the Koufax Curse?

[*] It could be a very Jewish game. The Marlins feature two Jewish relief pitchers--Jake Fishman and Richard Bleier.

Unsurprisingly, I am not a fan of MLB's bloated post-season. But I do like that it set the system to incentivize teams to win the division. The NL East winner gets a first-round bye and will not play until next Tuesday or Wednesday. The loser plays a best-of-3 series this weekend, then would face the 110-win (with three games left) Dodgers in the next round. A team may want to use its best pitcher in this game. If they win, he can be fully rested to start Game 1 after the bye. If they lose, he misses the short weekend series. Will Fried be the man, even on Yom Kippur day?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 3, 2022 at 03:01 PM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2022

Federer and McEnroe (Updated)

Roger Federer announced his retirement last week. He will play the Laver Cup (a Europe v. U.S. exhibition tournament) next week, then hang it up. Federe has not played in more than a year and has missed big chunks of the past several seasons with various injuries. He lost his last match at 2021 Wimbledon quarter in straight sets, with a third-set bagel, at one point slipping and falling on an easy volley; you could tell his body was no longer right.

I am an inveterate Federer-stan. I stayed in his camp in the G.O.A.T. debate--until it became impossible to deny reality that Nadal or Djokovic was better. This is true on any measurement: 1) Grand Slams championships (Nadal 22, Djokovic 21, Federer 20*); 2) Weeks at # 1 (Djokovic); 3) Head-to-head (16-24 v. Nadal, 23-27 v. Djokovic). What is left for Federer-stans is the inarticulable grace and artistry--Federer and his game looked different than everyone else, beautiful beyond ordinary tennis. It is telling that in the coronation of U.S. Open champion Carlos Alcarez as the next great player, he is described as combining the best of Djokovic and Nadal; no one mentions or compares him to Federer, because no one replicates Federer's game.

[*] Sports what-ifs are easy, but Federer should have 22. He inexplicably gave away a 2-set lead to Juan Del Potro at the 2009 U.S Open Final and blew two match points against Djokovic in the 2019 Wimbledon Final.

I circled around to John McEnroe. Like Federer, McEnroe's game looked different than everyone else, having some balletic beauty that no other players (even players with a similar serve-and-volley style) shared or replicated. And that grace and beauty elevates the player in the history, even if the numbers do not match the memory. That is partly why we remember McEnroe's relatively brief run at the top. And it is why we will remember Federer in a place even when the record book places others ahead of him.

Update: A fellow Federer-stan suggests additional metrics under which Federer retains G.O.A.T.-ness. Federer's peak 4 1/2-year run (2003-2008) is unrivaled. He spent 237 consecutive weeks as world # 1 (almost double Djokovic) and remained # 1 from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2007. Aside from two losses to Nadal in Paris, he was so far above the rest of the world. He made the semis in 46 tournaments, including 23 in a row; even if he did not win, he was always in the hunt. (Similar to Jack Nicklaus who has the most major titles and the most second-place finishes). Points well-taken.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 19, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 08, 2022

Playing on Tisha B'Av

While Jewish baseball fans focus on who plays or does not play on Yom Kippur and the Koufax Curse,Tisha B'Av (commemorating the destruction of both Temples and all other pre-Holocaust tragedies to befall the Jewish People*) presents the pardigm Jewish holy day for which most Jewish-American baseball fans do not care whether anyone sits out.

[*] The Holocaust is marked by Yom Ha'Shoah, which is set near Israel Independence Day and Israel Memorial Day. Many Orthodox Jews, particularly Chasidim, fold Holocaust commemoration into Tisha B'Av. Jewish scholars debate whether the Holocaust is an extraordinary event or one of many great historic tragedies.

Until now. Tisha 'Av ran from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. Here are the results.

Saturday Evening:

• Alex Bregman (3B, Astros). 1-for-4 with a double and run scored (albeit meaningless in the ninth inning of a 4-0) game. Astros lose 4-1.

• Max Fried (P, Braves). 6 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs (2 earned), 5 strikeouts. Part of the error that allowed two runs to score. Smacked his head on the field trying to make a play. Braves lose 6-2, swept in double-header, fall 5.5 games behind Mets in NL East.

• Rowdy Tellez (1B, Brewer): 1-for-2 after entering game in 6th inning. Brewers lose 7-5.

Sunday Afternoon:

• Bregman: 0-for-3. Astros lose 1-0

• Scott Effross (P, Yankees: 1 inning, 3 hits, 3 earned runs (that put game out of reach). Yankees lose 12-9.

• Joc Pederson (OF, Giants): 1-for-2. Giants win 6-4

• Garrett Stubbs (C, Phillis): (Rare start): 1-for-5 with a run scored. Phillies win 13-1.

• Tellez: 0-for-3 with a walk. Brewers lose 2-1


So Tisha B'Av looks a lot like Yom Kippur: Teams lose (2-6), Jewish players, especially pitchers, do anywhere from badly to not-so-great. I sense a pattern.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 8, 2022 at 07:16 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Britney Griner and WNBA pay

I am sure someone has written this, but I will throw it out again. Britney Griner was in Russia playing basketball because the WNBA does not pay its star athletes enough money to build the type of financial nest that will carry her when her career ends at age 35-40. WNBA stars have been doing this for years because the overseas money--especially in Russia, where oligarchs own several teams and use sports to amass and show wealth and influence--dwarfs WNBA money. Russian teams and leagues also treat players better in terms of travel, accommodations, schedule, etc.

Nor is this the first time WNBA players have gotten caught up in Russian political intrigue. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi played for Spartak Moscow Region; the mobbed-up team owner, Shabtai Kalmanovich, was murdered.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2022 at 06:10 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tacky, if not offensive

The Dodgers will unveil a statue of Sandy Koufax at Dodger Stadium--in a game beginning at 4:15 Saturday.

Koufax was not religiously observant and he played on Shabbat. And this is not Jewish-American Heritage Day; the Dodgers are honoring a historically great Dodger who means something to all Dodger fans. That said, Koufax's Jewishness is part of his outsided legacy, much as Jackie Robinson's race is part of his legacy. The Dodgers must know he has unique meaning to a segment of their fans and to a segment who are not Dodger fans but who revere Koufax because of what he meant to American Jewry. To schedule this event in a way that excludes a small portion of those fans and ignores the symbolism of his Jewishness reflects, at the very least, a lack of thought.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 16, 2022 at 12:29 PM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 02, 2022

For Shavuot, exploring the baseball records of post-retirement Jews-by-Choice

Shavuot begins at sundown Saturday. We commemorate receipt of Torah at Sinai--the point at which we all "became" Jewish--and we celebrate Jews-by-Choice by reading the Book of Ruth.

To mark the festival, I published an essay in The Forward considering the records and achievements of Joe Horlen and Steve Yeager, who converted to Judaism in retirement. The question is whether they should "count" as "Jewish" players and whether their records and achievements should count as "Jewish" in telling the history of Jews in baseball.

I had this idea in the fall. Some readers responded to my piece on the most-Jewish World Series by arguing that the '72 Series--in which Horlen, Ken Holtzman, and Mike Epstein played for the A's--was the first Series in which more than two Jews appeared. And if Horlen counts, so must Steve Yeager and his four World Series homers. I held the piece until now, timed to Shavuot and the celebration of conversion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 2, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Working and playing on Shabbat

There Orthodox Jewish athletes have entered the Jews-in-sports conversation. Ryan Turrell was the star of some good Yeshiva basketball teams and has declared for the NBA draft; pitcher Jacob Steinmetz (coincidentally, the son of Yeshiva's basketball coach) plays in the Arizona Diamondbacks organizations; and pitcher-turned-catcher Elie Kligman plays at Wake Forest. Each hopes to make the top level of their sports as Shabbat-observant Jews.

What does having Orthodox Jews in The Show entail? According to reports, Steinmetz and Turrell plan to play on Shabbat, while avoiding driving to the game. One commentator sees this as a wise compromise and the evolution of full Jewish participation in American life, in which Jews need not choose between their identities as "Americans" and "Jews."

But how does this square the law of Shabbat, in which we can neither work nor play (barring the workaround they found for Hank Greenberg on Rosh Hashanah in 1934)? Do rabbis apply some sort of "necessity" principle--these players cannot pursue these activities, and thus use the gifts Hashem has bestowed upon them, without this workaround? An everyday baseball player who cannot play on Shabbat is guaranteed to miss about 35 games, almost 20 % of the season; no team could afford to miss a key player for that much of the season. And what might Steinmetz do on Yom Kippur, when (unlike Shabbat) most American Jews take at least a partial day off? It would be ironic if millions of less-observant Jews (and the occasional less-observant Jewish player) take the day off and attend synagogue on Yom Kippur, while a player who follows more of Jewish law and ritual in his daily life takes the mound. Not worried about being a role model for American Jews, he need only worry about the Koufax Curse.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 3, 2022 at 08:49 PM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Purdue basketball as model for Duke basketball? (non-law)

Purdue lost to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament final today, which undermines the logic of his post. But I decided to go with it anyway.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will retire at the end of this NCAA Tournament, handing the reins to Associate Head Coach Jon Scheyer as hand-picked successor, over apparent objections by the university president. The impending change has prompted numerous stories about the history of former assistants or parts of the "coaching tree" replacing legendary long-time coaches at Blue Blood programs--Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, Dean Smith at UNC, John Wooden at UCLA, Bobby Knight at Indiana, John Thompson at Georgetown. The prevailing theme is that none has returned the program to prior heights. The common theme has been early success followed by a steep drop-off (and the school moving on from the chosen successor) or the successor bailing relatively quickly under the pressure. Thompson's son stuck around Georgetown for 13 years, but had only one season that mirrored his father's level of success (and, FWIW, Thompson III never played or coached for his father). Roy Williams at UNC provides the exception, winning one more championship in half the time than Smith--but note that Williams was not Smith's immediate successor, returning to Chapel Hill six years and two coaches after Smith had retired.

In the run-up to today's games, I had been thinking that Matt Painter at Purdue provides an interesting example. Gene Keady coached there for 25 years; he won six Big Ten regular-season titles, went to the NCAA 17 times, and reached the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet Sixteen three times. He was as associated with his school (as well as with wearing a hideous gold sports coat and drinking Diet Coke from cans on the bench) as the above coaches were with theirs. Painter played for Keady, then was recruited back to Pursue for one season as associate head coach/heir apparent, then took over in 2005.* Painter has come close to Keady's success--three regular-season championships, a conference tournament title (and just missed another today), four Sweet Sixteens, and an Elite Eight in sixteen seasons.  It is true that Purdue was never in the conversation with these other schools, and Keady never on a national championship or reached a Final Four. So that creates different and higher expectations. If Scheyer does at Duke everything Painter has done at Purdue (including a three-season drop in the early '10s that included a 12th-place conference finish), Duke fans may be calling for his head. But we do have one example of a chosen immediate successor matching his mentor's legacy.

[*] According to a new book about Coach K, when the university wanted to hire Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker (a former Duke player and assistant), Krzyzewski insisted that Amaker would have to follow the same steps, which would require bumping his current assistants, including Scheyer, down.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 13, 2022 at 08:08 PM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Technology and sports officiating

I oppose and actively dislike replay and most other officiating technology in sports. So why am I happy about the expansion of  the automated strike zone?

The answer is that the ball-strike call is unique in sport. First, the call is difficult for human officials. The umpire must determine whether a ball traveling as extreme speed with outrageous spin passed in the air through an imaginary moving box, simultaneously judging the horizontal and vertical location within that box. And he must make that call between 250 and 300 times each game. Second, the call can be automated in a way other calls cannot be. The call occurs in a confined and stationary space, at which a few cameras can be aimed; it does not require no movement or following the play. Third, it is one of the few technological advances that does not require breaking the flow of the game.

Count me as hoping this works.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 21, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

It's not just baseball

A New York Magazine story on Yeshiva men's basketball, which is ranked # 1 in the nation in D-III, has won 50 straight games dating back three seasons, and is blowing teams out. The undefeated Maccabees reached the D-III Sweet 16 when the tournament shut down in March 2020. They played only seven games last year before the season shut down. It is a great what-if for the school that COVID upended what could have been an historic run.

Ryan Turrell is the team's star, a mid-to-mid-major D-I talent who went to Yeshiva because he did not believe he could reconcile his Jewish practices with playing D-I basketball. Turrell hopes to be the first Orthodox Jewish player in the NBA and the counterpart to two young Orthodox baseball players (one in the minors, one playing at Wake). Lost in the story is perspective on whether Turrell's talents translate to the next level. There are no D-III grads in the NBA; the closest is Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson, who began his career at D-III Williams, but transferred to Michigan after a freshman season in which he earned All-America honors. Turrell's lone D-I commitment was to Army, which is not a typical path to the NBA (David Robinson does not count--he grew six inches between 12th grade and 2d year at Navy). The likely make-or-break for Turrell is whether he is a good enough shooter.

Fun times.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 22, 2021 at 11:40 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Fake slides and the infield fly rule (Updated and Moved to top) (Twice)

I defend the infield fly rule as a response to sporting situations defined by four features: 1) A player acts contrary to athletic expectations; 2) that player gains an extraordinary, unique, and inequitable benefit; 3) that player exercises exclusive control over the play; and 4) the combination of ## 2 and 3 gives a player the perverse incentive to try # 1. The IFR responds by limiting # 1 to avoid the overwhelming cost-benefit advantage. (The IFR achieves this by calling the batter out and eliminating the force on the runners, thereby eliminating the cost-benefit advantage and thus the perverse incentive). A key to the defense is showing that the IFR situation is not unique--that similar problems arise in baseball and other sports and those sports respond to the problem with limiting rules similar to the IFR.

A new example comes from Saturday's ACC Championship between Pitt and Wake Forest. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett scrambled out of the pocket and ran upfield. After almost 20 yards and with two defenders closing in, Pickett slowed and begin to slide to the ground, only to stutter step, remain upright, and continue running for a 58-yard touchdown (video embedded in link). When a QB slides to the ground feet-first, defenders cannot touch him; the rule--instituted in the NFL in 1985 and the NCAA in 2016--is designed to protect quarterbacks.

How does this break out:

    1) Pickett acted contrary to the game's expectations, which are that quarterbacks slide in that situation. The health and safety considerations are built into the game's rules and expectations.

    2) Pickett gained an extraordinary benefit. When he pretended to start his slide, the defenders had to stop; when he continued running, it was too late for them to react.

    3) Pickett controlled the players and the defenders can do nothing to stop it. Pickett knew what he was going to do, but the defenders did not. The defenders had to stop chasing when they saw him begin sliding. If they continued moving, he actually slid, and they hit him, it would have been an unnecessary-roughness penalty (and perhaps a targeting ejection, if one of them unintentionally hit the sliding Pickett in the head). But once they stopped, it was impossible to start again when Pickett continued running. And Pickett knew this--he took advantage of a rule that prohibits defenders from hitting him.

    4) Quarterbacks have a perverse incentive to try this move, at least if willing to take a hit. At worst, they actually slide and get hit, gaining an extra 15 yards. At best, they can run upfield without fear of getting hit. Wake Forest Coach Dave Clawson suggested he would tell his QB to "fake knee" all the way down the field.

Pickett's play was not against the rules, but Clawson called for a rule change to prevent such fake slides. This would be a limiting rule a la the IFR. The question is what the rule would look like. The official could whistle the play dead when the QB looks like he is giving himself up. Or the move could be penalized, depriving the QB of the benefit of the fake and eliminating any yardage gained prior to the fake. Only the second deters the effort. Under the first, a QB might hope he can fool the official into not blowing the play dead, knowing that it is costless to try. Under the second, the QB loses something if he tries it and fails.  A new rule may not be necessary. Football has a foul for "palpably unfair acts," a discretionary catch-all unsportsmanlike penalty. Examples include players running off the sideline to make tackles and intentional blatant holding penalties to waste time on the clock. Perhaps it covers this sort of deception of a helpless defender.

Update, 12/11: The NCAA came through, ruling: "[A]ny time a ball carrier begins, simulates, or fakes a feet-first slide, the ball should be declared dead by on the field officials at that point."

Second Update, 12/14: A friend asks how the fake slide differs from Dan Marino's 1994 fake spike, when Marino faked that he was spiking the ball at the goal line with time running out, then pull the ball back and threw a touchdown pass. A good question. The difference goes to the defense's ability to counter the fake. The rules allow the defense to keep playing when the QB spikes (or appears to spike) the ball--if a player could move that far that fast, a lineman could sack a QB trying to spike the ball. The Jets defense infamously was fooled and gave up on the play, allowing the TD. But the rules did not require them to do that--they could have avoided that fake by not falling for the fake. By contrast, the fake slide forces the defenders to stop playing because they cannot hit the QB who appears to be giving himself up and cannot even come close; when Pickett continued running, the defenders could not respond quickly enough to the play unexpectedly continuing.

There is, as my friend argued, a "family resemblance" between the plays. But this shows the importance of the four features of the play, all of which must be present for the play to raise problems. Eliminating one eliminates the extraordinary cost-benefit imbalance that requires limiting rules. Rulemakers still may not like and seek to eliminate the play. They are not facing a fundamentally unfair situation.

Third Update, 12/15: Another reader makes the point that Marino did not really fake the spike. Everyone assumed he was going to spike it and the defense stopped playing, but he did not really try very hard to sell the fake. Which reenforces my original point--the defense could control this play and failed to do so. No need for special rules to protect them.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 14, 2021 at 10:31 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 12, 2021

Four-Jew World Series after all

I am ashamed to say I missed this when it happened--it turns out we had our four-Jew World Series. Garrett Stubbs of the Astros, the team's third-string catcher, was placed on the active roster for Games 4, 5, and 6 when the back-up went into COVID protocols. That made this the first World Series with four Jewish players on active rosters. And Game 6 was the first Series game to feature four Jewish players when Stubbs caught the ninth inning. Unfortunately, Joc Pederson had been lifted for defense in the eighth and Max Fried had been taken out in the seventh, so the four were not in the game at the same time.

My apologies for not being on top of these historic events.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 12, 2021 at 05:44 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 01, 2021

The most-Jewish World Series has not been good for the Jews (at least so far) (Update)

As we head back to Houston with the Braves leading 3-2, it has not been a good series for The Tribe.

• Alex Bregman has two hits in 18 at-bats and has struck out five times. He was moved from third to seventh in the line-up for Game 5. He drove in the Astros first run in Game 5 with a second-inning double, although he failed to come through with the bases loaded and with a runner on second later in the game.

• Joc Pederson has one hit in 11 at-bats and has struck out three times. He did not start two of three games in Atlanta (played without a DH). He pinch-hit as they tying run in the bottom of the sixth, but popped out in foul territory to third. The defense was shifted, so the play required a long running catch--by Bregman.

• Max Fried took the loss for the Braves in Game 2, giving up six runs on seven hits in five innings. Reports on the game say he did not get hit hard, but everything the Astros hit found a hole. He has a chance to redeem the Series for Am Yisrael when he starts a potentially clinching Game 6 on Tuesday. Here's hoping.

Update, Nov. 3: The Brave won the Series in six games. Fried was the star of Game 6. He pitched six shutout innings, giving up four hits (none particularly hard hit) and striking out six on 74 pitches. He got Bregman (again batting seventh) twice--a strikeout in the fifth (a bad call-the pitch was low) and a foul fly to right in the first that was caught by Pederson on a nice play. Pederson was 0-for-4 and Bregman 0-for-3, making them a combined 3-for-36 for the Series. Pederson did become the ninth player--and first Jewish player, obviously--to win consecutive World Series with different teams.

Two more historic points. First, Fried became the fourth Jewish pitcher to win a Series-clincing game, after Larry Sherry ('59 Dodgers), Koufax ('63 and '65 Dodgers), and Holtzman ('73). Second, people are calling Bregman's flyout the most Jewish play in World Series history--Jewish pitcher, Jewish hitter, Jewish fielder credited with the putout.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2021 at 09:09 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Conversion and Jews in sports

Those of us who care about Jews in sports wield a broad definition of Jewish--basically anyone with a Jewish parent, maybe even a Jewish grandparent, and anyone who converted before or during his playing career (e.g., 1970s outfielder Elliot Maddox). But what about players who convert in retirement? Should we regard them as retroactively Jewish, so that their sports achievements and records become part of the record for "Jews in Sports?" Can we count a player's statistics and records accrued when he was not Jewish when accruing them? Can a player who was not when playing be named to the All-Time Jewish team after the fact?

I wrote recently that this is the second three-Jew World Series and that Max Fried pitching to Alex Bregman in the first inning of Game 2 was the first time a Jewish pitcher faced a Jewish hitter in the Series. Readers have challenged both points. On the first, a reader pointed out that the A's had three Jewish players in the 1972 Series--Ken Holtzman, Mike Epstein, and pitcher Joe Horlen. On the second, a reader said (which I had known) that Holtzman faced Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager in the 1974 Series, Yeager going 1-for-3 with a double and a strikeout.

Horlen and Yeager converted in retirement when each married a Jewish woman. So neither qualified as a Jewish player at the time. Anyone looking at A's roster during the '72 Series would have identified two Jewish players--who went by the nicknames of "Ordinary Jew" and "Super Jew," respectively. Holtzman pitching to Steve Yeager in 1974 was no different from a Jewish standpoint than Holtzman pitching to Steve Garvey.*

[*] I have danced around the question with Yeager in wondering whether to count his four home runs and Series MVP in 1981 and in not including him in my Yom Kippur study because he would have had no reason or impulse not to play on those days.

But should it be? Judaism speaks of conversion as the person "coming home." The person did not change, in that her soul or spirit has always been Jewish and one of the Jewish people who received Torah at Sinai. He is the same person, returning to the fold. The Talmud also discusses retroactivity in designation or impurity of items. How should that apply in who we recognize as Jewish and how we honor and recognize individual achievements? Maybe I will come back to this next Shavuot.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 30, 2021 at 11:09 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 29, 2021

Nikolai Yezhov, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the historical record (Updated)

Update, Nov. 3: The Hall removed Aldrich's name. An utterly cheap move that makes the Blackhawks feel good about themselves while doing absolutely nothing for anyone.

I have not written about the ongoing fallout in the NHL from the Chicago Blackhawks' failure to punish an assistant coach, Brad Aldrich, who sexually assaulted and harassed one player (who has identified himself as former prospect Kyle Beach) and harassed another during the team's 2010 Stanley Cup run. This offers a great summary. I am not  a hockey fan and have not had anything to add, other than that Reid Schar, the Jenner & Block partner who led the investigation, is a law school classmate.

But I had to respond to this morally bankrupt attempt to "make amends:" Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz wants the Hockey Hall of Fame to remove Aldrich's name from the Stanley Cup (the names of every player and other person from a champion is engraved on the Cup). Here are the major points of Wirtz's argument:

    • "[I]t was a mistake to submit his name. We are sorry we allowed it to happen."

    • "While nothing can undo what he did, leaving his name on the most prestigious trophy in sports seems profoundly wrong."

    • Citing precedent: The Hall removing from the 1983-84 champion Edmonton Oilers the name Basil Pocklington, father of team owner Pete Pocklington, because Basil played no role on the team (other than, I suppose, siring Pete decades earlier).

    • "Principle and our moral belief that a convicted sex offender does not belong on the Stanley Cup."

I will be outraged if the Hall grants Wirtz's request. Frankly, Wirtz should be ashamed for making the request (although he will not be, just as I question how ashamed he is of this entire mess, beyond how it affects his hockey team).

As a starting point, I do not like ex post punishments that excise the historical record. I do not like it when the NCAA strips wins, records, and championships from programs, coaches, and players. Regardless of whether they broke some rules (e.g., Michigan's Fab Five or Pete Rose), ignored predatory off-field behavior (e.g., Joe Paterno), or were generally bad people during or after their careers (e.g., Curt Schilling but probably many others), they built a real-life historical record and retaining that record matters. Sanctions for misconduct should not entail falsifying what happened in real-life events. I oppose putting Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame and am mostly agnostic about putting Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc. in the Hall; I would object to MLB removing Rose's name from atop the list for career hits or Bonds's name from atop the list of home runs in a season. Each accomplished something in the real world that we record; we cannot eliminate a previously acknowledged role in documented real-world events, like erasing Nikolai Yezhov from a photograph.

But context makes Wirtz's request worse than the usual effort to purge history. The Blackhawks' misdeed was that team leadership failed to take action against Aldrich for more than three week after receiving what they deemed a credible and confirmed report of the assault and harassment; they did nothing against Aldrich for almost four weeks, until after they won the championship (during the celebration of which Aldrich reportedly made a sexual advance on a team intern). The reason team officials did nothing was because they did not want the dreaded "distraction" and harm to "team chemistry" in the midst of a Cup run. Michael Baumann at The Ringer exposes the idiocy of believing the team would have descended into chaos had it suspended its video coordinator. That aside, the Blackhawks' official position, borne by the actions of its top officials, was that Aldrich was essential to their championship and the team could not succeed without him. It therefore cannot rewrite history by erasing contributions that the team believed at the time were so essential to its success that leaders no choice but to overlook credible allegations of sexual assault for a month.

The team's position at the time makes the lone cited instance of erasing a name worthless as support. The Oilers should not have included Basil Pocklington in the first instance, because he played no role in the team or its championship. That is not the case with Aldrich, or so the team's actions in 2010 would have us believe. The argument that removing his name remedies an original mistake also fails. The Blackhawks won the Cup on June 10 and notified H.R. about the accusation on June 14; on June 16, H.R. gave Aldrich a choice of resigning or submitting to an investigation and he chose the latter. From the Blackhawks' standpoint, the situation was resolved--the wrongdoer was no longer with the team. I do not know when the team provided the list of names to the Cup engravers, but either undermines the "it was a mistake to submit his name" narrative. If they sent the list prior to Aldrich resigning on June 16, it was not a mistake, because Aldrich was still a team employee and still part of the championship. If they sent the list after Aldrich resigned on June 16, the immediate inference is that it was not a mistake, but was intended not to continue to avoid calling attention to Aldrich's (and the team's) misconduct by including his name on the cup but being rid of him going forward.

Wirtz's argument is immoral on its own terms. He cites his moral belief that a "convicted sex offender" does not belong on the Cup. But the Blackhawks' wrongdoing--for which this move is supposed to be penance--has nothing to do with the criminal conviction. Aldrich was convicted three years later of sexual assault involving a minor in a subsequent coaching job, having nothing to do with the Blackhawks or the assault of Beach in 2010. (The attenuated connection is that the Blackhawks' failure to sanction Aldrich and to attempt to stop him from getting other coaching jobs allowed him to get the high-school coaching job that gave him access to that later victim). But then Wirtz is not making this request because of Kyle Beach. Imagine everything unfolded as it did except Aldrich was never convicted on that later, unrelated offense. There would be no "convicted sex offender" with his name on the Stanley Cup; Wirtz's principle and moral belief would not apply to this situation or require Aldrich's name be removed solely for the assault on Kyle Beach for which he was not convicted. Maybe that is not what Wirtz intended to say. But that is the logical conclusion from his words.

Finally, Wirtz's request is, at bottom, selfish. Removing the name does not sanction Aldrich in any meaningful sense--he has larger concerns than whether his name is one of thousands on a metal cup in a museum. It does not benefit Beach. Accepting that Beach is injured by Aldrich reaping the rewards of being associate with a championship team, he watched Aldrich reap those immediate rewards in 2010--celebrating with the team in the moment, spending a day with the trophy (the greatest tradition in sports), and receiving a playoff bonus as part of his severance.

This move benefits the Blackhawks, but no one else. It allows them to erase from the historical record any connection between Aldrich and that championship team. Future generations who look at the piece of the Stanley Cup dedicated to the 2010 Blackhawks will not see the name "Brad Aldrich," so no one will ask who Brad Aldrich is and no one from the Blackhawks will have to explain that he was an assistant coach who was allowed to continue coaching after the team learned and believed he had sexually assaulted a player. The opposite should occur--the historical record should capture Brad Aldrich's connection to the Blackhawks and it should remain a written stain on the team and that season.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 29, 2021 at 05:33 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Jewish showdown in the World Series

I was unable to watch Game 2 on Wednesday (ironically enough because of a Temple meeting). The Astros rocked Max Fried for five runs in the first two innings and six overall (Fried's second straight poor outing after being unhittable since August) in a 7-2 win to even the Series.

As predicted, the first Jewish pitcher v. Jewish hitter showdown in a World Series came when Alex Bregman came to bat with one out and a runner on third in the bottom of the first. He hit a sacrifice fly, which is kind of Solomonic in terms of which Jewish player prevailed in the showdown--Fried got Bregman out, but Bregman drove in a run to give the Astros an early lead. Fried retired Bregman two more times, including a fifth-inning strikeout.

Overall for the Series, Bregman is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts, while Joc Pederson is 1-for-8 and struck out three times in Game 2. With Fried's Game 2 loss, this is not going well so far. But, hey, it took 40 years to reach the Promised Land.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 28, 2021 at 12:23 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Welcome to the Velt Serye

In The Forward, as we prepare for the most Jewish World Series in history, talking about Jews playing rather than sitting out. Max Fried's expected Game 2 start, in which Joc Pederson should be the Braves DH and Alex Bregman will bat third for the Astros, is the one to watch.

Update: Should we be concerned that this most-Jewish Series pits ethically compromised teams? Well, if our comparator is 1959 (the prior 3-Jew Series), it is worth noting that the Go-Go Sox stole signs. Their general manager, who knew? Hank Greenberg. Turns ourt some of Greenberg's championship teams in Detroit also stole signs.

Addendum: Garrett Stubbs, the Astros' third-string catcher, is not on the World Series roster. So that leaves us with three Jews on rosters, matching 1959, but all will play.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 25, 2021 at 01:08 PM in Article Spotlight, Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Perverse incentives and sports rules

Many sports rules are about eliminating perverse incentives--to keep a team from intentionally doing something contrary to the game's ordinary expectations, where doing so offers an unexpected benefit. That is the basic idea behind the Infield Fly Rule and its cousin the dropped-third-strike rule.

Watch replays of the bizarre ground-rule double that denies the Rays a run in Sunday night's Game 3 loss to the Red Sox (the Sox clinched in four on Monday night). The ball hit the top of the right-field wall and back into the field, bounced off the right-fielder and back into the stands. The umpires correctly ruled it a ground-rule double; two rules discuss a fair ball deflecting off a fielder and out of play. The right-fielder did not intentionally knock the ball into the stands, which would have triggered a different rule. At the same time, he did not try that hard to keep it from going into the stands. Watching the replay, he reaches out to grab the ball as it is heading over the wall, then seems to pull his glove back. It may be that his body was against the wall and he could not reach further without going over.

Back to perverse incentives: Perverse incentives to do what--Intentionally knock the ball into the stands or to not try too hard to keep the ball in play. The rules address the former. But they do not address the latter, which can work to a team's advantage. While this play was unusual (few stadiums have 6' outfield fences), the incentive is not. This happens a fair bit at Wrigley Field; a ball that sticks in the ivy on the outfield fence is governed by the same rule and we often see players ease up on a ball that is clearly going into the plants or where the ball and player reach the wall at the same time. There may be nothing the rules can do. It is hard enough to determine player intent. It would be impossible to determine that a player did not try hard enough to prevent something unintentional from happening. There is some talk that baseball should change the rule to award two bases from where the runners are when the ball leaves the field, which is the rule if the player intentionally deflects the ball into the stands. Baseball might be able to carve out deflections from balls traveling on their own. But umpires like clear rules, so the push to change it may not get very far.

Finally, a lawyering lesson. On Sunday, Rays manager Kevin Cash argued that the runner should have been allowed to score, given how the ball was hit, that he was running on the pitch, and that he would have scored had the ball remained in play. But it was pointed out that in a 2019 regular-season game against the Blue Jays, a Rays outfield lost control of a ball and the ball went into the stands; Cash argued that it was a ground-rule double and that the baserunner, who would have scored on the play, had to return to third. You argue the interpretation that works for your client.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 12, 2021 at 11:14 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 04, 2021

A Jewish post-season (Updated)

As baseball's post-season begins, my side interest will include following the Jewish players competing for a championship. No concerns for missing holy days this year, since they have passed. There is a greater risk that if play continues too far into November it will run into Chanukah, which begins on November 28.

We have: Pitcher Max Fried and outfielder Joc Pederson of the Braves; third-baseman Alex Bregman (who at this point must be closing on the record for post-season games by a Jewish player) and backup catcher Garrett Stubbs of the Astros; and Rowdy Tellez of the Brewers, activated off the IL. The unknown is pitcher Ryan Sherriff of the Rays, who is one of several lefty relievers from whom the team will choose. [Update: Sherriff is not on the Rays' roster for the ALDS, although there is a chance he could be for later series if they advance]

A Braves-Astros World Series (possible but unlikely--the Braves won a weak division and have the worst record of the six NL post-season teams) would produce the first four-Jew Series.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 4, 2021 at 04:31 PM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sports nomenclature

Novak Djokovic lost in the finals of the U.S. Open today, ending his attempt to complete the first Grand Slam by a male player since Rod Laver in 1969 and by any player since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Much of the writing about this will describe Djokovic as missing the "Calendar-Year Grand Slam," a qualifier distinguishing what became known as a "Serena Slam" in which a player holds the four titles at the same time measured from some arbitrary point in time. For example, a player wins Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in Year One and the Australian and French Opens in Year Two; measured during the month between French and Wimbledon in Year Two, that player has won a "Slam" over the last 12 months.

This is stupid. Had Djokovic won, he would have captured a Grand Slam, unmodified and unqualified. The Serena Slam is not a thing and we should not mention it. A Serena Slam is equivalent to saying a baseball player who hit 37 home runs in the last 81 games of Year One and 37 home runs in the first 81 games of Year Two holds the record by hitting 74 homers in 162 games (the length of a season). Or a hockey player who scored 46 goals in the final 41 games of Year One and 47 goals in the first 41 games of Year Two holds the record by scoring 93 goals in in 82 games (the length of a season). Season records are measured in a season, not the number of games that comprise a season, measured from arbitrary points over multiple seasons.

Tennis has a season that follows a calendar year and contains four Grand Slam tournaments in order. It begins in January leading to the first Slam tournament in Australia in late January and ends in November with round-robin tournaments featuring the eight best men (played in Italy) and women (played in China), two months after the fourth and final Slam event in New York. If winning the four tournaments is a thing, it must be within that "season," meaning a calendar year. Anything else looks like an attempt to create a special achievement when the real achievement proved too rare.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 12, 2021 at 07:36 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Understanding cheering speech

From Will Leitch at New York Magazine, on Mets players "booing" fans (through a thumbs-down) following a good play in reaction to fans booing players for, well, being the Mets. Leitch makes an interesting point about the psychology of the three actors involved--fans, players, and management. Fans boo the team as opposed to individual players (sometimes, at least--I think a lot of booing is more directed than Will does). "The team" is players and the management that built the team (recall the old Seinfeld joke that sports fandom means rooting for the shirt a player wears). But management sides with the fans against the players, leaving the players to personally bear the brunt of negative fan expression. When fans  turn their speech to ownership and management, they often are removed or have signs confiscated (to stay in New York, numerous Knicks fans were removed or had signs confiscated for criticizing fail-son owner James Dolan).

Update: A different take from Michael Baumann at The Ringer. Baumann makes a point that ties back to politics. He writes: "[P]art and parcel of loving something is—or at least should be—criticizing it when it goes off the rails. Unceasing positivity in defiance of fact isn’t love or support, it’s Stockholm syndrome." While that is true in sports, it has ceased to be true in politics, as Tom Nichols argues to the point of exhaustion. Neither side will tolerate criticism or acknowledge mistakes by their "side" or their "guys." In part, this is because the other side can and does weaponize internal criticism. My thinking or saying that the Cubs suck does not affect how the Cubs perform. My thinking or saying that Biden screwed up the Afghanistan withdrawal or the eviction moratorium affects media coverage and the political narrative, which then affects whether my guy or my side wins the next election. It is not healthy, but it is explicable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2021 at 11:29 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why playing baseball on Yom Kippur matters

My new essay in The Forward explores why we care about playing baseball on Yom Kippur more than we care about playing on other, arguably more important, days on the Hebrew Calendar. This began life as part of my empirical study of Jews playing on Yom Kippur; it was removed for length and I decided to break it out as stand-alone piece for a non-academic audience.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

FIFA as state actor and other bad arguments

Another entry in the "Bad § 1983 Takes" File: Siasia v. FIFA in the Southern District of New York. Samson Siasia is a U.S. citizen and international soccer coach who got caught up with a match-fixer while trying to land a coaching job in Australia; FIFA imposed a lifetime ban from coaching, which the Court for Arbitration of Sport in June reduced to five years, backdated to 2019. The Complaint alleges a due process violation in the FIFA proceedings and that FIFA acted under color by performing the traditional and exclusive government function of investigating and adjudicating bribery and imposing a sanction (the complain says "punishment" over and over).

This fails on so many levels.

First, FIFA is a Swiss association with its PPB in Switzerland, so it does not seem possible for it to act under color of the law of any state of the United States; it does not act in or as a replacement for any one state. The U.S. Soccer Federation is one of the 200+ national federations that comprise FIFA, providing a U.S. hook. But USSF is not a defendant (and was not involved in the Siasia case). Getting at FIFA through USSF runs afoul of Tarkanian v. NCAA, where SCOTUS said the NCAA did not act under color of law of any state when it was comprised of schools from multiple states.

Second, private entities can make internal decisions concerning the enforcement administration of internal rules, including by investigating alleged violations and rendering decisions through adjudicative processes. Sometimes the conduct violating those internal rules also violates a society's criminal laws. A private entity does not become a state actor when enforcing its internal rules and imposing internal sanctions, where it imposes no societal consequences (conviction and imprisonment). If it did, no private organization could maintain and enforce internal rules for conduct that also could be criminal. Under this theory, MLB is a state actor with respect to the investigation and suspension of Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer for sexual assault, because sexual assault is a crime.

The Complaint argues that FIFA should have followed the NCAA as to former basketball coach Lamont Evans. Having received information that Evans was accepting bribes to route players towards certain financial advisers, the NCAA turned the information to the federal government, which prosecuted Evans. The NCAA punished Evans with a 10-year ban after Evans had been convicted and sentenced in the federal criminal proceeding. But the distinction is incoherent, at least as it affects becoming a state actor. The NCAA cooperated with the government to allow it to prosecute and jail the person, something FIFA chose not to do. But the NCAA and FIFA otherwise engaged in identical conduct--imposing internal sanctions on someone for conduct that also violated a criminal law. The decision to also assist the government in having the person convicted and jailed should not affect the nature of the organization's internal proceedings and thus of the organization.

Alternatively, the argument means that a private entity cannot enforce internal rules and impose internal sanctions if the government declines to press criminal charges or if the person is acquitted. This has never been how the law requires private organizations to operate.

Third, I am not sure FIFA is subject to the 14th Amendment (or the 5th Amendment, as the complaint also cites for no reason) or to U.S. due process requirements for proceedings in Switzerland, even as they apply to a U.S. citizen. A U.S. citizen subject to foreign proceedings must abide by the rules of the foreign proceeding. At best, he might limit the domestic effects of those proceedings.

State action aside, there are some fun jurisdiction and venue issues here. Siasia is a Georgia citizen, while FIFA is a Swiss citizen. The Complaint alleges that venue is proper in the Southern District because FIFA is "an alien corporation and has significant contact in this District and is currently organizing the 2026 FIFA World Cup in this District." The Complaint does not cite the correct provision, but I believe it is basing venue on § 1391(b)(1) (where any defendant resides) as developed in (c)(2) (association resides where it is subject to personal jurisdiction) and (d) (in states with multiple districts, determine jurisdiction in the district as if it were a state).

Is FIFA subject to personal jurisdiction in the Southern District as if it were a state? The "significant contacts" language sounds in the pre-Daimler/pre-Good Year general jurisdiction, which no longer exists; FIFA is neither created in nor has its PPB in the Southern District, so is not subject to general jurisdiction there. Organizing the 2026 World Cup in the Southern District* and other contacts with the district have nothing to do with Siasia or his suspension, at least as indicated in the complaint; the complaint does not allege that anything related to Siasia occurred in New York or the Southern District. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has a location in New York City, so that might have been where Siasia appealed the FIFA decision; the complaint does not say. I doubt that is enough, since the alleged violation is the FIFA proceeding, not Siasia's partially successful appeal.

[*] A separate question is whether the 2026 World Cup will be in the Southern District as to be a contact. One of the eleven U.S. cities under consideration is "New York/New Jersey." Games would be played at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey (in a different district), although FIFA will pitch people to stay in and visit New York while in town for the games. What is the relevant place for jurisdiction based on FIFA's "organizing" activities--where the game is played or all the places that fans and teams will use?

Based on the complaint, there is specific jurisdiction in Georgia under Walden and Calder. The emails that formed the basis for the alleged bribery were sent to Siasia while he lived in Georgia. The emails notifying Siasia of the charges against him (which he alleges he never received, part of the due process violation) and of his sanctions were sent to his emails in Georgia. FIFA investigated a Georgia citizen about actions taken in Georgia, thereby directing its actions at Georgia. Because Siasia is an Atlanta citizen, venue is proper in the Northern District of Georgia.

Even if SDNY is proper, there is a good argument that NDGa is better and a § 1404(a) transfer is in order. Siasia does not reside in SDNY, so he cannot claim venue privilege. The relevant acts as to Siasia, to the extent they occurred in the United States, took place in NDGa, which is where the one relevant witness--Siasia--is located. Other than Siasia's lawyer being from Connecticut and barred in SDNY, I am not sure why the suit was filed there.

Alternatively, FIFA could try to get the case out of the U.S. and to Switzerland on forum non conveniens grounds. FIFA's actions in initiating and holding the proceedings and suspending Siasia's license occurred in Switzerland, so that would be the situs of the actions and location of witnesses and evidence concerning the propriety of the proceedings.

Fun stuff.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 3, 2021 at 12:19 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Putting racists in a bind

The new Olympic sport for the Crazy Coalition is rooting against the men's basketball and women's soccer teams ("too woke and anthem-kneeling") and Simone Biles ("weak," "selfish socipath," "shame to the country," not tough). The other sport is waiting for that "true champion  . . . who perseveres even when the competition gets tough." That true champion who reflects what makes America great and in whom real Americans can be proud.

Fortunately, they found someone to do what Biles could not in the Women's All-Around, someone strong whom these real Americans can get behind.

Or not.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 29, 2021 at 04:02 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 26, 2021

NBC has learned nothing

Bela Karolyi earned fame as the coach of U.S. gymnastics because of his outsized reactions to the athletes' performances, which NBC cameras showed and commentators discussed, elevating his profile above that of his female athletes. We now know what was going on behind the scenes.

Apparently, NBC has learned nothing. Australian swimmer Arirne Titmus won the 400-free style, beating American Katie Ledecky. NBC cameras showed, repeatedly, her coach, Dean Boxall, losing his shit celebrating Titmus' win from the stands. As with Karolyi and the gymnasts, cameras and announcers focused on his sideline histrionics more than the athlete. I am not suggesting that Boxall mistreats Titmus or other athletes or that his well-documented intensity crosses lines. But it is hard not to notice the parallel focus on the male coach with an intense personality over the female athlete.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 26, 2021 at 10:31 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

A cynical thought

The Olympic Opening Ceremony featured a moment of silence, with express reference to the eleven Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Games. This is the first official commemoration of Munich, despite lobbying for it in 2012 (the 40th anniversary) and 2016. The inclusion was not announced in advance. The linked article notes that ceremony's creative director was fired the previous day over a Holocaust joke he made 20 years ago, offering the cynical possibility that the acknowledgement was a response to that embarrassment.

I had a different cynical thought: The Opening Ceremony took place in an empty stadium, meaning there was no chance that a crowd would react to the commemoration with anti-Israel sentiment.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2021 at 10:33 AM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Bernstein on sport and speech

David Bernstein argues in Persuasion that sporting bodies should allow athletes to speak in non-disruptive ways around events, targeting the IOC, UEFA, and the NFL and considering players taking a knee, wearing expressive items on their uniforms, etc. Here is his key point:

No matter how much professional sports and sports fans may wish to separate sports from politics, it cannot be done. The debate re-emerges again and again with no resolution in sight, and you can bet it will kick into gear once the medal ceremonies start at the Tokyo Olympics.

So, rather than attempting to extricate itself from politics, sports should adopt a laissez-faire posture: Let everyone—owners, players, and fans—make political statements at sports matches.

I would supplement with the point I made last week after English fans heaped racist abuse on the three Black players who missed penalty kicks in the Euro finals: If fans are going to respond to sports in political terms, the athletes should be able to express themselves in political terms in the first place.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2021 at 08:47 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Best Jewish teammates?

Joc Pederson was traded from the Cubs (as part of an impending firesale by a cheap-and-mismanaged organization) to the Braves, where he teams with lefty starter Max Fried. In their first game together last night, Pederson went 2-for-5 with a two-run homer and Fried struck out seven in seven shutout innings (and had three hits, raising his season average to .333).

Are Fried and Pederson the best pair of Jewish players on one team? What other teams have had two (or more) top-tier Jewish players at once? Going backwards in history:

    • Third-baseman Alex Bregman and catcher Garrett Stubbs have been teammates on the Astros for most of the past three seasons. Bregman is a star and MVP runner-up in 2019, but has been hurt much of the past two seasons. Stubbs is a back-up and rarely plays.

    • Outfielder Danny Valencia and pitcher Richard Bleier were teammates on the 2018 Orioles. Bleier was an effective situational reliever, going 3-0, striking out 4 batters per nine innings. Valencia played in 78 games in his final season in the Majors. And the Orioles went 47-115.

    • Kevin Youkilis and Gabe Kapler were teammates on the Red Sox from 2004-06. Both were bench players for the first two seasons. Youkilis became a starter in 2006, but Kapler played in only 72 games.

    • Ken Holtzman and Elliott Maddox (African American, converted to Judaism) were teammates with the Yankees for part of 1976, a season in which the team reached the World Series.  Holtzman was part of the starting rotation and won 9 games, but was on the downside of his career; Maddox was a spot outfielder.

    • On the 1972 World Champion A's, Holtzman won 19 games and made the All Star team, while Mike Epstein was the starting first baseman who hit 26 home runs and garnered some MVP votes. In 1973, Holtzman won 21 games and made the All Star team, but Epstein was run out of town after playing in 118 games.

    • The Dodgers had pitcher Larry Sherry from 1958-63; his brother Norm, a catcher, from 1959-'62; and a lefty named Koufax. Norm was a career backup. Sherry was primarily a reliever, although an effective one; he won 14 games in 1960 and 7 games and World Series MVP in 1959. Koufax did not become KOUFAX until 1961, at which point both Sherry brothers were less key players.

So I think the Holtzman/Epstein duo, although it lasted only one year, is the one to beat, accounting for team and individual performance. Pederson has not hit well this season, but he still has power and will be the everyday right-fielder for a team trying to get back into the pennant race. Fried has been inconsistent this season, but has won his last two games and is the best pitcher on the staff. Can they (and the team) get hot in the second half and pass them?

Did I miss other good examples?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 18, 2021 at 02:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)