What the Mets’ World Series Loss Teaches Us About Law & Life
I’m a lifelong New York Mets fan, going back to 1969 when I was six years old, and the “Miracle Mets” came “outta no-whair” to win the World Series. So it was with great anticipation and as much hope that I spent most of the last two months watching baseball – more so than any other time in the last 15 years – which was the last time my beloved Mets made it that far.
One of the interesting takeaways from watching that much baseball is that you know you’re seeing the best players in the world. After over 160 games, these two teams survived elimination over 28 other teams in the league. They represent the absolute best baseball players in the world. Yet they know, and we do as well, that perfection is unattainable. Try though we may, we cannot insure any particular outcome in baseball — or in litigation, for that matter.
And so, without surprise, the errors come. From the best of the best come plays that leave most fans thinking, “I coulda made that play.” For example, the Mets’ top hitter in the postseason, Daniel Murphy, also made the most errors in the field. He earned the Mets their NLCS pennant, but some would argue his errors cost them the Series. Murphy went from goat, to hero, back to goat again in the blink of an eye.
Now that baseball is done, and the gloves and cleats are put away for winter, I once again am able to turn my full attention back to what I do for a living – litigation. (Note to clients: This is not to suggest that my attention was ever really turned away from your matters during the past few weeks — thank goodness World Series games are played evenings and weekends AND that DVRs exist!).
Can I draw any parallels between my love of baseball and my passion for resolving disputes?
I can’t help but notice that conflict and baseball have some things in common and some things I wish they had in common.
Baseball and litigation share the “battle” theme where adversaries compete on the field of war (be it a grass diamond that fans out into a deceptively sanguine green outfield or the paneled and worn courtroom in the Central District Superior Court in downtown LA, for example). They both feature players whose on-field antics are cheered by the adoring faithful – baseball fans or parties to a lawsuit, depending on which field of dreams (nightmares?) you’re playing on.
But there are significant differences as well. Litigation purports to have a clock (filing and response deadlines, mediation and settlement conference dates, and a trial date). Baseball admittedly has no clock. No timer. No deadline. But still you know that it will end within a few hours. (For the record, the longest baseball game ever played in history was a 25-inning affair on May 8, 1984 when the Chicago White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-6. The game lasted eight hours and six minutes.)
Longest litigation ever in history? As much as 90 years… although admittedly, some baseball games feel like they last 90 years (think eight-year-old kid pitch).
Baseball has another distinction versus litigation, and it’s one that vexes me to this day: our great American pastime has an umpire watching at all times. And that referee is committed to being present and “making the call,” which makes him the undisputed “judge” on the field. And the “blue” makes decisions in real time.
Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, unlike a baseball ump, a judge cannot watch 300 games at once (approx. the average number of cases heard by a Superior Court judge). S/he is relegated to having the players in a given situation come into court and describe what happened.
Now, can you imagine what a baseball game would be like if every time a call was made the ump had to ask, “What did you see, Mr. Player?”
Suffice to say, we’d probably hear a lot of fielders saying, “I heard his foot hit the bag after I felt it hit my glove.”
Plenty of times you lose battles over… and over… and over again… but still end up winning the war. During any game there are good plays, bad plays, close plays, and “are you kiddin’ me?!” plays. Still, uncertainty persists (on a baseball field and in court), and no one can predict outcomes (protestations to the contrary notwithstanding).
But I do wish that conflict resolution were more like baseball. Wouldn’t it be great if there were always an umpire watching over the litigation that you are involved in? Someone who would unilaterally (“sua sponte”) render a ruling even before a dispute broke out over some side issue in the case.
Contract dispute? No problem. In ten minutes, your own private blue would let you know his or her decision. Divorce? This one’s easy. Split it down the middle, and enforce the judgment, or “you’re outta here!”
Too bad it’s not like that in real life.
So there’s not anyone really officiating, and legal proceedings may go through many long, drawn-out “innings” without a single call. If only it were possible that there could be a neutral third party on hand at any given moment to render a verdict and then have the authority to enforce that outcome.
Or toss particularly difficult players or repeat offenders out of the game altogether.
Baseball is over for the season, but the lessons of the game never stop coming. Baseball is life, my friends. Disputes and all. It happens. The best players . . . the heroes . . . the record setters . . . the “good guys” that honor their commitments . . . still end up involved in disputes.
In other words, people just like you (and me).
Back to Murph and the Mets — in the sweep of the Cubs, he batted .529. He broke a slew of postseason records. And yet his World Series game #5 error was rated the 6th costliest error in the history of baseball.
So until next spring, I’ll take David Wright’s advice and focus on taking positives out of negatives all the time.
It’s a great way to practice conflict resolution AND play baseball, if you ask me.
Photo: Portrait of the lawyer as a young baller: Forest Hills (Queens) Little League, 1972