Reporters, pundits and conservative think tanks are picking through every last detail of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s professional life. But let the other journalists, bloggers and assorted trolls attempt to divine her views on abortion, the death penalty or campaign finance. We can learn all we need about Sotomayor’s politics and perspective by examining her decisions in sports.
It was Sotomayor who in 1995 briskly and gruffly ruled against the owners of Major League Baseball, quashing the lockout that infamously canceled the last one-third of the 1994 baseball season, including the World Series. Depression and two world wars couldn’t cancel the series, but a particularly seething group of billionaires were ready to do just that, all for the almighty purpose of snapping the spine of a baseball players’ union that had cleaned their clock for a generation. The bosses were ready to destroy the game in order to save it, fielding replacement players and doing everything short of lacing hot dogs with rat poison. But Sotomayor stepped in, put the owners on ice and the game back on the field.
At the time, baseball writers went canine in full-throated praise. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Claude Lewis opined that Sotomayor would be mentioned in baseball lore, in the same breath as Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams. Barack Obama even mentioned this fact in his press conference announcing her nomination, saying she had “ saved baseball.” Her decision was pitched as a pro-union response to the owners, saying that they had “placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial.”
Obama’s casual reference to Sotomayor’s judicial fastball was enough to set off tweedy baseball weenie George Will. Will, who from appearances probably never got to play as a child, huffed, “in fact, what she did was take sides, took union’s side against the management, and in so-doing, wasted 262 days of negotiations. That, far from saving baseball, consigned baseball to seven more years of an unreformed economic system, which happened to be the seven worst years in terms of competitive balance.” This is a reference to the Yankees’ winning four titles from 1996-2000, which clearly had more to do with a court ruling than anything done by Derek Jeter.
Sotomayor, Will says, “delayed the restructuring of baseball. So I would say that far from her saving baseball, as the president says, that in fact, baseball thrives now because we got over the damage that her judicial activism did in that strike.”
This is idiotic. To say that there were “262 days of negotiations” is like calling the Civil War a verbal snit. The owners wanted to crush the union and had gone off the beam. If anything, Sotomayor wasn’t a labor-friendly judicial activist as much as a safety net for the baseball bosses as they spiraled further from reality.