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Of Note: Supreme Baseball

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This is a guest post by Connie L. Cartledge, Senior Archives Specialist in the Manuscript Division.

With the baseball postseason beginning in early October, I am reminded of a time when my career as a professional archivist intersected with my love of baseball. While processing the papers of Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun (associate justice 1970-1994), I discovered he was an avid baseball fan. Blackmun’s enthusiasm is documented throughout his papers, but items with special meaning to me are the notes about the Cincinnati Reds that he exchanged with other justices during the Court’s oral arguments. Informal communications such as these provide insight into the relationships between the justices that differ markedly from their usual formal correspondence, allowing us to understand better the individuals who serve on the Court.

Justice Blackmun sitting in front of a bookcase with part of an American flag to his left.
Portrait of Harry A. Blackmun, Official portraits of the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court: Justice Harry A. Blackmun, January 26, 1976. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

When Supreme Court justices agree to accept a case, attorneys appear before the Court for oral arguments to present briefly their strongest points for their clients. These arguments also provide an opportunity for the justices to ask questions of the lawyers. During court proceedings the justices occasionally pass notes about happenings in the court room and current events outside the Court. The Blackmun Papers contain five folders of these notes (1970-1993). The ones that grabbed my attention were those Blackmun exchanged with Justice Potter Stewart (associate justice 1958-1981), relating to my favorite baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds.

As a processing archivist, it is not unusual to feel excitement when uncovering a significant or interesting item, but notes relating to the 1973 National League Championship Series and the 1975 World Series were a joyful reminder of my youth when my brother and I enthusiastically followed the Reds via the sports pages and watched them when they were featured on NBC’s Game of the Week. Two of my favorite baseball-related items pertain to game five of the 1973 National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds. Since game five was played during the day, it was hard for fans at work or school to keep track of the score because there was no Internet or cell phone to provide updates. To keep apprised of the game during afternoon arguments, Justice Stewart, a fervent Reds fan, had his law clerks update him through notes, which he would then pass down the bench to the other justices.

The note that most resonated with me chronicled in detail the Reds’ unsuccessful at bat in the first inning of game five, October 10, 1973 (Item 1).  When I saw the names: [Pete] Rose, [Joe] Morgan, [Dan] Driessen, [Tony] Perez, [Johnny] Bench, and [Ken] Griffey [Sr.], it was a surprise but also great fun to see a reminder of this group of players who were key members of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” which dominated the National League during the 1970s. A second message reported on the bottom half of that inning: METS 2 REDS 0 but also included the news that Vice President Spiro Agnew had “just resigned” (Item 2). As this was the final game to determine who would represent the National League in the World Series, the score rendered in all capital letters may be an indication that it was almost as newsworthy as Agnew’s resignation. The Mets won that day 7 to 2 but would lose to the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. Many of the Cincinnati players from this game would return to the postseason in 1975 to play in what many consider one of the most exciting World Series ever played. It too is documented in the Blackmun Papers.

Exchanges relating to the 1975 World Series show a wager between Blackmun and Stewart with Blackmun picking the Boston Red Sox to win and Stewart risking $4.00 on the Reds (Item 3).  Cincinnati triumphed in an exciting game seven, ending the series by scoring in the ninth inning and retiring the Red Sox hitters. In a note the day after the final game, October 22, 1973, Stewart was gracious in victory: “It was a great Series, and the Reds were darn lucky to win” (Item 4). Almost anyone who watched that series would agree with that assessment. History was also the winner because Justice Blackmun saved these notes, enabling us to see a private side of the justices not usually found in their formal communications and providing us a better understanding of their interactions on the Court.


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  1. Frank ROBINSON

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