The Ump Who Sued Lou Piniella (And Other Baseball-Related Legal Disputes)
It's surprising how often America's national pastime, baseball, finds itself snugly entrenched with the country's second-favorite hobby, litigation. Over the years a number of baseball incidents and disputes have found their way into courtrooms. Here are five examples.
1. Sweet Lou Kicks Dirt on an Ump's Reputation
Lou Piniella has had his fair share of difficulties with umpires over the years, to put it mildly. None of his dirt-kicking and stomping histrionics can quite compare with the pickle he worked his way into during an August 1991 game, though. In the bottom of the 8th inning with Piniella's Cincinnati Reds trailing the San Francisco Giants 7-3, Reds second baseman Bill Doran banged a solo homer just inside the foul pole to cut into the Giants' lead.
First-base umpire Dutch Rennert called Doran's shot a homer, but home plate ump Gary Darling overturned the call and said Doran's blast was a foul ball. At this point, Sweet Lou went ballistic, did his customary cover-home-plate-with-dirt bit, and got ejected from the game. But the real fun didn't start until afterwards.
After the game, Piniella told reporters, "I honestly feel that Darling has bias against us and won't give us a call all year." A few days later, Darling filed a $5 million lawsuit that contended his reputation had been "severely damaged" by Piniella's claims. The umpires' union had Darling's back, and Piniella eventually settled the suit for an undisclosed amount while saying he had "high regard for Gary Darling's integrity" in a statement.
2. Ross Grimsley Throws Too Hard
On September 16, 1975, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Ross Grimsley was warming up in the bullpen of Boston's Fenway Park. The Fenway fans, as they tend to do, were heckling Grimsley, and the pitcher eventually decided he'd had enough. He whizzed a pitch at the protective screen in front of the fans to scare them a little. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the safety netting gave way and the ball struck fan David Manning.
Manning was understandably a bit upset at being conked by a fastball, so he sued Grimsley for battery and negligence. Although Grimsley won on both counts in the trial, Manning appealed, and the appellate court decided that since Grimsely was an expert pitcher, he had in fact committed battery and been negligent. Ouch.
3. Curt Flood Changes the Game
Curt Flood was a pretty great ballplayer. His career included three All-Star nods, two World Series rings with the St. Louis Cardinals, and seven Gold Gloves for his work in center field. If you mention his name now, though, most of us just remember him as the pioneer who helped pave the way for free agency in pro sports.
For years baseball had a "reserve clause," which basically meant that when a player's contract with a team expired, he couldn't just jump to another squad. The team to which he had originally been signed still maintained his exclusive rights, even though they didn't have to pay him anything unless the two parties negotiated a contract for the next season. Basically, once a player signed with a team, his playing rights belonged to the franchise forever.
Like a lot of players, Flood thought this system was profoundly unfair. When the Cardinals traded Flood (along with Tim McCarver and two other players) to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for three players in October 1969, Flood refused to show up in Philly. Two months later, Flood wrote to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn with a simple demand that he be declared a free agent since the reserve clause violated his constitutional rights.
Kuhn predictably balked at this request, so Flood sued the commissioner and MLB for a million dollars. The Flood v. Kuhn case eventually ended up in front of the Supreme Court, which sided with Kuhn and MLB in a 5-3 decision. Flood ended up missing the entire 1970 season due to the legal wrangling, and he retired in 1971 after a brief stint with the Washington Senators. Eventually, the reserve clause fell thanks to an arbitrator's ruling in 1975, and Floods dream of free agency became a lucrative reality for his successors.
4. Frank Francisco Gives a Lady His Seat
If Texas Rangers reliever Frank Francisco ever gets tired of baseball, he'll be a natural fit in pro wrestling. During a September 2004 road game against the Oakland Athletics, the Rangers' bullpen endured the normal merciless heckling from the home fans. The fans allegedly crossed the line, though, when one of them make a crack about Rangers reliever Doug Brocail's stillborn child, which so enraged Brocail that he rushed to confront the fan. A full-blown melee broke out, and during the fracas the rookie Francisco chucked a folding chair into the stands. The chair hit Jennifer Bueno, whose husband allegedly hurled the disrespectful heckle, in the face, breaking her nose.
Francisco was quickly arrested for his chair toss and charged with aggravated battery. He pled no contest to the charges and was sentenced to a work program and anger management classes. Bueno also filed a civil suit against Francisco for breaking her nose, which was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
5. God Blesses a Trip to the Men's Room
Last summer Bradford Campeau-Laurion had to use the restroom during the seventh-inning stretch at a Yankees game. He popped out of his seat and headed for the facilities, but a NYPD officer intercepted the fan and told Campeau-Laurion he would have to wait until the playing of "God Bless America" ended to relieve himself. When Campeau-Laurion insisted that he really, really had to go and wasn't particularly interested in the patriotic anthem, another officer joined in, and the two cops threw him out of the stadium.
With help from the New York Civil Liberties Union, Campeau-Laurion filed a suit against the city of New York in federal court for "political and religious discrimination." It ended up being an expensive bathroom break for the city; earlier this month they settled for $10,000 plus another $12,000 to cover Campeau-Laurion's legal fees.