Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Monte Ward: The Forefather of Modern Sports Law
This Friday, 8/17, will mark the 115th anniversary of the longest shutout thrown by a single pitcher in Major League Baseball history. That shutout lasted 18 innings and was thrown by John Montgomery "Monte" Ward -- a starting pitcher and shortstop who played most of his career with the Providence Grays and New York Giants.
Monte Ward, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964, is the only player in major-league history to win 100 games as a pitcher and collect 2,000 hits as a batter. Ward played 17 seasons, won multiple pennants, and was a star manager.
However, to sports lawyers, Ward was something more. He was also our forefather.
A Columbia-trained lawyer, Ward was professional sports' first real advocate of players' rights, as well as the first staunch opponent of baseball's reserve clause and its salary cap (yes, baseball had a salary cap in the 1800s). In 1885, Ward formed the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, an early version of baseball's players union, in attempt to bargain collectively with National League owners. Then, in 1890, Ward formed the Players League -- a league owned by professional baseball players themselves, which challenged the National League for market share. Unfortunately, the Players League was unable to raise sufficient capital and folded after just one season.
In addition to using his legal skills to improve the status of baseball players, Ward was also well known for using his legal mind to manipulate baseball's on-the-field rules to his advantage. According to one of the most innovative law review articles ever written, The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule, which first appeared in the June 1975 edition of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, baseball implemented the infield fly rule in large part because Monte Ward was amongst the first to recognize that, based on baseball's rules, he could intentionally drop pop flies with two-or-more runners on base in order to turn easy double plays.
After Ward retired from Major League Baseball, Ward continued to represent professional baseball players in their disputes against the National League. Ward then briefly served as an official of the Federal League, an upstart baseball league that briefly attempted to compete against the National League and American League. Until the very end of his life, Ward remained involved in baseball, and he continued to use his legal training to improve the status of professional ballplayers.