John Marshall Harlan: The Original Heavy Hitter

03Mar10

The 2010 Green Bag Almanac has come out recently, and as usual, it’s a blast to read. The Reader, for those of you who don’t know, is an annual offshoot of the journal, which reprints excerpts of pieces they consider to be the best in legal writing for the previous year, whether it be articles, excerpts of books or judicial opinions.  (A footnote states that they wanted to print an excerpt from Mel Urofsky’s biography on Brandeis but they couldn’t afford the publisher’s demanded fee.) This year’s volume has a baseball and the law theme and includes articles on the subject, reproductions of old baseball cards of players who were also lawyers and more.

One of the highlights for me was a reprint of a brief article from the original run of the Green Bag talking about a baseball game Harlan played in 1907 at a DC Bar Association picnic. Harlan apparently won the game for his team with a tie breaking home run in the bottom of the last inning. He hit the ball over the head of the center fielder and made it back to home base before the ball could be recovered. The kicker in this story: Harlan was 74 at the time. Now there’s a judge!

The original Green Bag article can be found on Google Books.

There’s also a reference to a baseball game Harlan umpired in 1905 between some farmers and some Presbyterian ministers in Indiana. The ministers lost 11-5. I think they should have let Harlan play…

Update: The 2011 Green Bag Almanac is out now, and they have posted a correction to the story. They found a 1908 interview with Harlan where he denies hitting the home run: “Why I simply held out my bat and touched the ball. I didn’t run an inch.” You find more on the controversy (so to speak) and a great contemporary illustration of Harlan’s “home run” on pages 3-5 of the Almanac.

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