Mental Floss

The Ump Who Sued Lou Piniella (And Other Baseball-Related Legal Disputes)

Ethan Trex
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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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