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You Ott to Know: Using Legal Documents to Change Baseball History

Mel Ott. Photo from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The ABA publication Insights On Law & Society states in its Winter 2017 issue that “The birth certificate is among the first legal documents an individual might acquire.” In most jurisdictions it’s the only document one can use for obtaining a drivers’ license, proving your citizenship, obtaining a passport… just merely establishing your existence.

And they’ve also been used to change history.

For July’s Baseball and Law post, a personal history of researching primary source documents to change baseball history:

My former boss, an estate planning and taxation attorney here in DC, loved baseball even more than I do.  His favorite player was “Master” Melvin (Mel) Ott.

Back in the days when a personal computer with the Internet was a fairly new concept, I got my boss engaged in using the Internet by finding various baseball websites for him to peruse.

During one such session we came across a site that tracked stats and records.  Reading through it brought up a long-held irritation: that most resources listed Tony Conigliaro as the youngest player to hit 100 home runs.

Card design and photo by Betty Lupinacci

My boss knew differently.  Seeing it online made him want to correct the problem.  Thus the Mel Ott – 1949 Society was born.

But how to prove it?

We spent considerable time and energy (you can do that in private practice) calculating the exact ages of each player when they reached the milestone.  Our conclusion was that Mel Ott was about 2 months younger than Tony Conigliaro when each hit their 100th home run.  But being an attorney, my boss wanted legal proof before we made our findings public.

In general in order to obtain a certified copy of another person’s birth certificate, you must be related to them or be a legal guardian.  Fortunately, most states, including both involved here (Louisiana and Massachusetts), permit one to order informational copies of the documents, which confirmed our findings.

We then began a letter-writing campaign to various baseball statistics publishers and baseball magazines forwarding our research and legal proof.

Nowadays, if you happen to be perusing baseball stats, you will note that Mel Ott has regained his spot at the top.

You’re welcome, Giants’ fans!

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