WASHINGTON—The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in the case of Wright v. Dreckman, which calls into question professional baseball player David Wright's 2005 check swing against the San Diego Padres and whether or not the resulting strike call should be upheld.
The decision was first handed down in New York's lowest circuit court, Shea Stadium, after presiding home-plate umpire Ed Montague was unable to rule in the case. San Diego Padres catcher Ramon Hernandez, acting on the advice of now-retired pitcher Pedro Astacio, then filed an immediate appeal with first-base umpire Bruce Dreckman, who ruled against Wright. However, according to defense attorney David B. Reiss, in order for justice to be served, the decision must be overturned by the Supreme Court and the strike ruled a ball.
The called strike pushed the count to an even 2-2.
"Evidence and eyewitness testimony will show that not only did my client's bat not cross the front of home plate, but his wrists never turned over in such a way as to demonstrate a clear intent to swing," Reiss said before members of the high court Wednesday. "In addition, I submit that the plaintiff's state of mind at the moment of the decision remains suspect. Was Mr. Dreckman paying full attention to my client? Or was he distracted by fans taunting his earlier failed call on an attempted bunt for a single? Also, there was a clear split second of hesitation on the part of Mr. Dreckman after Mr. Hernandez signaled for the appeal. Why is that?"
"The court has the responsibility today to define, once and for all, what constitutes a check swing. Is it—this?" added Reiss, demonstrating by swinging a bat and stopping it well before a ball placed on a tee. "Because if it is, my client successfully worked the count to a hitter-friendly three balls and one strike. And who knows what would have happened after that."
In the 2005 game, the at-bat in question ended with a groundout to shortstop.
The road to the Supreme Court for Wright v. Dreckman has been lengthy, convoluted, and filled with more than its share of tumult. After the 2005 Shea ruling, the case was appealed to the U.S. District Court of the state of New York, where the decision was reversed in favor of Wright. However, when it was revealed that the presiding judge was a lifelong Mets fan, the decision was thrown out and the case was again argued in front of the New York State Court of Appeals. That court, citing the 1994 case Bonds v. Davidson, sided with Dreckman.
According to attorney Reiss, however, the decision in Bonds v. Davidson was inapplicable. Though the court upheld the original ruling on the field, Reiss was quick to note that Bonds was left-handed, and thus the case set legal precedent with third-base umpires, not first-base umpires. Reiss believed Wright being right-handed constituted a legitimate enough reason to file a writ of certiorari, or "cert petition," an order for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court.
"We were never—never—going to stop fighting this until this case reached the top," Reiss told reporters after the court recessed. "And I hope that the justices find it in their hearts to do what is right. My client is a good man, a young man who has been an All-Star and a Silver Slugger. There is simply no way he would swing at a pitch that low and outside."
This is far from the first instance in which the Supreme Court has been called upon to decide matters of the national pastime. In the 1903 case of Wagner v. The Chicago White Sox, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the defendant that "a base-ball hit far and high, only to bounce fairly onto the field-of-play, and then spring forth into the seats of the 'bleachers' should earn the bats-man no more and no fewer than two bases, and not an out." A landmark 1976 ruling established the infield fly rule. And more recently, a 2006 decision in the case of Rodriguez v. The Fans of New York cemented the legal precedent established in the 1940 case of Williams v. The Fans of Boston, which made it clear that baseball fans are free to boo, no matter how nonsensical it may seem, players on their home team.
Thus far, legal and baseball experts remain uncertain as to how the court will rule in Wright v. Dreckman.
"I think this decision could go either way," Baseball Tonight legal analyst John Kruk said. "Several of the justices, such as [Antonin] Scalia, are originalists who believe in the strict interpretation the baseball rulebook as it was first written. That document clearly states that a decision on the check swing ultimately falls on the umpire. However, there are those pragmatists on the court, such as Justice Breyer, who believe in the living, flexible rulebook."
Added Kruk: "And then there is Justice [Samuel] Alito, who is an idiot, and moreover has never watched a baseball game in his life."