Friday, October 31, 2008

Grow Thick Skin - Booing is a Fundamental Right

Published: July 24, 1987
New York Times

Needling the umpire is a time-honored baseball tradition. It is also legal, a New York State appeals court ruled yesterday.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Manhattan threw out a lawsuit by a former major-league umpire against George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees.

It held that criticizing the umpire was a "venerated American tradition" and that impugning the vision and mental health of such officials was not only a constitutionally protected right of fans, players and club owners, but also an expected part of the game.

The lawsuit arose after a two-game series between the Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays in August 1982. In that series, the umpire, Dallas Parks, ejected two Yankee players, and was criticized by Mr. Steinbrenner, the team's principal owner, in a widely published press statement.

By ballpark standards, Mr. Steinbrenner's criticisms were mild to the point of gentility. "My people tell me that he is not a capable umpire," he said. "He is a member of one of the finest crews umpiring in the American League today, but obviously he doesn't measure up."

Mr. Parks, who joined the league in 1979, left it in 1982 and who is no longer in professional baseball, argued in his suit that Mr. Steinbrenner's words went beyond the usual insults to which he had presumably become accustomed.

In the unanimous decision, Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin wrote: "From the late nineteenth century on, the baseball umpire has come to expect not only verbal abuse, but in many cases physical attack as well. Most fans feel that without one or more rhubarbs they have not received their money's worth."

In her conclusion, Justice Ellerin quoted, among others, General Douglas MacArthur and Albert G. Spalding, one of the game's early promoters in the 1800's. It was General MacArthur, the judge wrote, "who is reported to have said on his return to American soil that he was proud to protect American freedoms, like the freedom to boo the umpire."

Mr. Park's original defamation suit was filed in State Supreme Court in the Bronx. The ruling yesterday came on an appeal of a decision by the State Supreme Court Justice not to dismiss the suit.

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