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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Sports Analogy You Never Thought You'd See: Court's Odd, Split Ruling on Prop. 8 Recalls Spitball Decision in 1920

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge Burleigh Grimes, the spitting analogy for the state Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage
  • Burleigh Grimes, the spitting analogy for the state Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage

Barely had the first boo escaped the lips of protesters at Civic Center yesterday when folks began making analogies about Tuesday's somewhat tortured two-part state Supreme Court ruling upholding California's ban on same-sex marriage, but allowing those who married while it was legal to carry on their nuptial bliss.

You don't have to not be a lawyer to be a bit dumbstruck by any ruling that, in essence, states that some activity must be stopped -- except by the folks who were already doing it. We noted yesterday that right-wing proponents of Prop. 8, peeved that the 18,000 or so same-sex weddings were not annulled, compared the situation to slave owners being allowed to keep their human chattel in the wake of laws forbidding slavery.  You see what we said about crap analogies? Never mind that this is exactly what happened in much of the northern United States (while slavery was ostensibly outlawed in New Jersey in 1804, a handful of elderly slaves still resided in the Garden State at the onset of the Civil War; they were considered "apprentices for life."). And never mind this analogy somehow compares voluntary, lifetime commitments to involuntary servitude.

No, the analogy that works here, as is nearly always the case, is a baseball one. In 1920, Major League Baseball outlawed the spitball. Yet the league allowed each team to designate two pitchers who would be allowed to continue throwing the banned pitch in perpetuity; in 1921 17 men were still allowed to do so. 

There were plenty of pressing reasons for the league to ban spitballs: Offensive numbers were down, it uglied up an already rough game, and, that year, Cleveland's Ray Chapman was struck on the head and killed by what could well have been an errant spitter from Carl Mays. And yet, perhaps so as not to deny men their livelihoods, a handful of hurlers were grandfathered through.

Heading back to Prop. 8, the pressing reason to pass it -- no matter where you stand on same-sex marriage -- was the will of the voters in November's election. And yet, the 18,000 wedded couples who tied the knot between June and Nov. 3 shall not be torn asunder -- because that would be a violation of due process thanks to couples' "vested property rights as lawfully married spouses." (My God, that's romantic; let's all incorporate this into our forthcoming wedding vows.)

It's interesting to note what became of the men allowed to blatantly moisten the ball in an ostensibly "dry" league. Unless you're really a baseball fan, these names will not mean much to you (and their pictures will look like every baseball player's picture from that era: too-small cap, perpetually dirty face, crow's feet at age 28). But it warrants mentioning that, prior to his death at age 38 from complications due to pneumonia Urban Shocker was one of the elite pitchers in baseball and a mainstay of the 1920s "Murderer's Row" Yankees teams. Burleigh Grimes pitched in four World Series and is a Hall-of Famer; Jack Quinn played until he was 49 years old; and Red Faber pitched 20 years -- all with the Chicago White Sox -- until he was 44.

And, if you're a supporter of same-sex marriage, this is where my analogy breaks down. Because the obvious success of the spitballers did not induce the league to reconsider the folly of their ways -- nor should it have. But, here in the present day, the couples whose marriages remain intact following yesterday's ruling could well convince people who supported Prop. 8 that they miscalculated. If, as foes of same-sex marriage have claimed, traditional marriage is debased and endangered by allowing gays and lesbians to marry -- well, we're waiting.

Frankly, that's one pitch we're not swinging at.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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