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Baseball Blues: Sunday Games and the Law

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Photograph by Phil Bath (1966). Look Magazine Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

There’s nothing like a Sunday afternoon baseball game.

The stands are full of families, with children carrying gloves in the hopes of snagging a foul ball or, better yet, a home run ball!

But it wasn’t always this way.

During the early 1900s (and up until 1933), states’ blue laws prohibited baseball games being played on Sundays.

Blue laws (also known as Sunday Closing Laws) have traditionally been thought to be related to the Christian ideals of Sunday being a day of worship and rest.  And while that may be their origin, more secular ideals have since been attached to Sunday closings.

As late as 1961, the Supreme Court decided four cases on these laws, in each instance upholding the concept of the legality of state laws banning certain types of commerce on Sundays.  Justice Earl Warren wrote in Braunfeld v. Brown that:

We also took cognizance, in McGowan, of the evolution of Sunday Closing Laws from wholly religious sanctions to legislation concerned with the establishment of a day of community tranquillity, respite and recreation, a day when the atmosphere is one of calm and relaxation rather than one of commercialism, as it is during the other six days of the week.

The four cases decided that year were:

Fortunately, the laws for Sunday baseball had changed almost 30 years before these decisions were rendered.  But it didn’t happen all at once.   For example:

So the next time you’re in the mood for a little MLB action on the weekend. Don’t worry! You won’t be breaking the law.




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