October 25th, 2011

25 Years Ago Today — Game 6, 1986 Wold Series

Mookie Wilson races to first as the ball gets past Bill Buckner in the bottom of the 10th, Game 6, 1986 World Series.

On the Mets opening day this year, I did an interview with Mike Sergio, who parachuted out of the Queens sky to land in Shea Stadium during a ballgame. Not just any ballgame, though, as this was the start, quite fortuitously, of one of the most famous games in baseball history .

Today is the 25th anniversary of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, between the Mets and Red Sox. The Sox were up 3 games to 2, and this game was tied and went into extra innings. The Sox scored two in the top of the 10th and were one out from winning the championship. Then all hell broke loose:

Single by Gary Carter

Single by Kevin Mitchell

Single by Ray Knight (Carter scores)

Wild pitch by Bob Stanley, off the glove of catcher Rich Gedman (Mitchell scores to tie the game, Knight to second)

Mookie Wilson slow roller up the line, through the legs of first basemen Bill Buckner (Knight scores from second)

Game over.

This is a 3 minute clip by Major League Baseball of that most famous inning, which I watched from the upper deck of the stadium. (I had to sneak in, as management gave almost all the tickets to season ticket holders and league people. I’m confident the statute of limitations has now run on my transgression.)

Enjoy the clip. (Unless, of course, you are from Boston, in which case  you should be reading something else.)

(And if you want to buy the ball, it is being sold today on eBay with a starting bid of $1,000,000, with the auction ending at the precise time Wilson hit his slow roller down the line.)


March 31st, 2011

Opening Day – An Interview with 1986 Shea Jumper Mike Sergio

We go off topic today because it’s opening day, when hope springs eternal and your hometown team has yet to lose a game. And to celebrate, I bring you a baseball interview celebrating  one of the most memorable World Series the sport has ever seen.

This is the 25th anniversary season of  the 1986 Mets v. Red Sox series. And I was there in Shea Stadium for all four of the home games, having used some creative means of getting inside, since most of the tickets went corporate. (The statute of limitations has passed, thankfully, on my creative means, and Shea is no more.)

And it was Game 6 of that series that will live on in the minds of sports fans. Not only because the Red Sox were up by two in the 10th inning and just one measly out away from ridding themselves of the Curse of the Bambino..and the Mets rallied…and a legendary at bat by Mookie Wilson that included a game-tying wild pitch by Bob Stanley that skipped past Rich Gedman, and a game-ending error by Bill Buckner when Wilson’s squibbler went through his legs.

No, the game was memorable for something else as well. For Mike Sergio drifting down out of the Queens night sky with a Go Mets banner strung from his rigging that turned him into an instant cultural icon. And to celebrate the 25th anniverary of that season, I decided to interview Sergio, now an actor and filmmaker (and an Emmy winner) (whose jump was profiled at length in this 1989 Sports Illustrated article)

1.  You landed on the field in the first inning of Game 6 of the ’86 series, and were promptly arrested. So does that mean you were in custody when Mookie Wilson had his legendary at bat in the bottom of the 10th and the Mets came from behind to beat the Red Sox? How did you feel about missing the game?
My brother David Sergio (sadly he passed away from cancer just after I was released from prison) was a NYPD police officer and in the vicinity of Shea Stadium at the time of my jump. Needless to say when he showed up at the local precinct the atmosphere turned pretty festive.  I was really concerned that if the Mets lost the game the media, and worst of all the Met fans, would instantly blame me and then I’d have to move out of NYC… and believe me I really wasn’t looking forward to living on a farm in Canada… not that there’s anything wrong with Canada (ok, let’s just leave the Toronto Blue Jays out of this discussion).  So, with the baseball gods smiling on me, a TV suddenly appeared and I was able to watch the end of the game. At the top of the 10th inning I was already mentally planning how much winter clothing I should pack for my trip north but then the beautiful, marvelous and amazing Mets went to work… and what a job they did. Where I was, and I can’t say too much about where I was, everybody went absolutely wild. So in my mind I quickly unpacked my winter clothes and went to work signing autographs. Like Rick in Casablanca, all I could think was “of all the games, in all the towns, in all the world, I picked this one to jump into”…  yahooo!!!

2. Were you still in custody for Game 7? Did they let you watch the Mets win the Series?
The next morning Judge Alan Beldock released me on my own recognizance and ordered a court hearing. The Judge said to me “I’m a Mets season-ticketholder, I was there when it happened. I’m still trying to figure where you came from.” So yes I was out and free and able to watch game 7… and I was trilled to see fans in the bleachers holding up signs like “send in Sergio.”

3.   Has there ever been a moment in your life when you regretted the jump?
Not a single time… not for a single moment… not even when I was in jail and I honestly thought I was going to have to do at least 18 months on the contempt of court charge… not even then.  Obviously it was a more innocent time, but in my heart I knew that what I did, I did for fun and to show support for our New York Mets. So whatever was to come I was just going to take it and then move on.  I never thought it would be any big deal and I was really amazed at how much of an event it became.

4.  In the 25 years since that stunt, did you pull off any others? Or did you simply quit while you were ahead?
STUNT!!!!! Eric please, as a sensitive artist I prefer to call what I did “my performance art”… and yeah, I quit while I was ahead.  I couldn’t see myself, in my waining years, jumping into country fairs for 50 bucks and a ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel. But actually that doesn’t really seem all that bad right now… hummm?

5.  Did you lose any acting/film jobs as a result of the stunt? Or gain any?
Actually I never used the event to try and capitalize off of… and I was always very conscientious about keeping my jumping separate from my artistic life (although I did do one skydiving Wendy’s commercial which I think I booked before the Shea jump anyway?). The networks put out feelers about doing a film but I turned everything down.  At the time I was acting on a soap (Loving), I was in numerous commercials, I was singing almost every night at the NY Improv, I had recently been in a Broadway play for 2 years (I Love My Wife), I had sold a screenplay that actually got made (Simple Justice) and I was starting a directing career that has turned into something wonderful for me (I’ve won an Emmy for Directing and numerous awards for my film & theatrical distribution company CAVU Pictures).  But now, 25 years later, some very creative people have approached me about doing both a book and a film about the event, but like everything in the film business, it would be dependent upon them raising the funds to do it. But honestly, at this point in my life I think it would be great fun… so, we’ll see what happens.

6.  Do strangers ever recognize you (or your name)?  And if so, is it for your Shea jump or your film work?
Wow… this just happened… I was in Trader Joe’s on 6th Avenue about 2 weeks ago and I’m pushing a shopping cart down the vegan isle when a young guy who’s pushing his cart in the opposite direction looks up and with a questioning surprise on his face points at me and says… “Mike Sergio”?  So I figured he’s a crew guy who I must have hired on one project or another and I say “yeah, that’s me”.  He goes absolutely nuts… I mean he is really happy to see me and he says “Mike Sergio from the 1986 World Series”?  Now I’m stunned because this guy doesn’t look like he was even born when I did the jump… and he holds up a magazine section that one of the dailies had just done about the Mets so now I’m floored. Over the years my hair has sprouted an age appropriate amount of gray and I have definitely become gravity enhanced… so I say to the guy “how did you recognize me” and he says back “because your face looks exactly the same”.  OK, so I took that compliment and just jumped into the moment.  I signed his Trader Joe’s produce flyer, or it might have been a notebook that he had… who can remember with all the excitement. But then reality starts to set in and I said to him “come on… are you from the government”… but he doesn’t skip a beat and he says that his girlfriend is in college and she’s has this big Mets sports blog and he instantly called her… so yeah… I still get recognized.

7. When you failed to cough up the name of the pilot —  who violated a few aviation rules when he dropped you from the sky so close to LaGuardia Airport —  you were held in contempt of court and jailed for three weeks. The judge finally let you go when he realized you weren’t going to talk. Is there any chance that the pilot, assuming he is still alive, will release you from your vow of silence? And if so, is that day today?
Like I said… (cue the heavy New York accent)… “I’m just glad I had my parachute on when I fell out of the bleachers” (cut… one more time with feeling please).

8.  In 2006 Jeb Corliss tried to BASE jump off the Empire State Building, apparently with the objective of landing in the street. He was arrested on the observation deck, and then sued for emotional distress. He was convicted of reckless endangerment and lost his civil suit. I thought it was a spectacularly stupid stunt due to the risk of stunned drivers in midtown Manhattan and pedestrians being distracted.  As a stunt junkie yourself — and someone who assisted Owen Quinn in being first person to BASE jump off the World Trade Center — how did you feel about it?
STUNT JUNKIE!!!!!  Eric please… for the last time… I prefer to call myself a “performance art junkie”!!!    Now this is a bit of a dicey question for me, and being of the legal persuasion I know you’ll appreciate my situation so… I’m lawyering up and taking the 5th.

9. What’s the most common question you get asked about the stunt?
STUNT!!!… AGAIN WITH THE STUNT!!!!   That’s it… no answer for you… next!!!

10.  Have the Mets invited you down to participate in this year’s 25th celebration?
Actually while the players were always really supportive of me the Mets organization itself has not been. I can understand their position but you would think a PR person would see the value of giving a “walk on” to the guy who parachuted into the 1986 World Series…. you know to fire up the crowds!  In fact a couple of years ago they invited a parachutist to jump into the stadium and people wrote that it was me jumping in again. Wow… now I’m a franchise and get credit for jumps I don’t even do. (Hey can I get them on ‘Performance Art Infringement’?)   Last year I even went down to the Mets open call for singers (and I can sing!!!) to try out for one of 5 slots to sing the National Anthem at Shea… but I literally got a “Mr. Sergio, don’t call us, we’ll call you” message.

Oh well… life goes on.

11. The Mets are going to win it all this year, right?
All the way baby… all the way!!!


12. If you were conducting this interview, what question do you think should be asked? And how would  you it?
Question #1: Mr. Sergio are you available for dinner and perhaps some light cocktails.
Answer #1:   Why Scarlett Johansson… of course I am darling… of course I am… your place or mine?


February 1st, 2010

R.I.P. Jane Jarvis, Shea’s Queen of Melody (And a Lesson For Lawyers)

Jane Jarvis, the long-time organist for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, died last week at age 94. Shea Stadium’s Queen of Melody inspired fans over the course of 15 years, and her playing, oddly enough, held lessons for lawyers. Stay with me here. I have a point this time.

Those of my age that grew up spending times watching the Mets at Shea remember her playing for the fans, and the fans responding, and Jarvis tinkling the ivories back at us. It was like an exuberant conversation during her 1964-1979 tenure as she kept us entertained between innings and during other breaks. Anyone who spent time at the now-gone ball yard remembers Jarvis doing Meet the Mets on the Thomas organ.

Ultimately she was replaced by over-amplified canned music (and a thousand other distractions of the modern ball park). But canned music, of course, can’t respond to the fans. Her playing was personal. She could see and hear what was going on, and speed up, slow down and modify on the fly. Live music is like that.

So where does the law come in to this? Lawyers often used canned materials too. We borrow briefs and memos from others for use.

But here is the important part: Too many lawyers, it seems, borrow the brief and don’t actually read it. They don’t make it personal to the actual facts of the case. The writing doesn’t crackle with originality and pertinence, because oft times it is neither.

I once read a brief that was filled with “this honorable court” and “respectfully” this and “respectfully” that, and behind all the obsequious writing was garbage. I always figured that if one wanted to be respectful to the court, one would tailor the brief to the actual facts and points that needed to be made. The writer would make it easy on the eyes instead of forcing the judge (or clerk) to go burrowing through the darn thing trying to figure out what the actual point is.

Other briefs I’ve seen over the years have clearly been filled with cut-and-paste from other briefs, or straight out of WestLaw. It’s pure laziness and the message that the judge no doubt receives is, “If the lawyer didn’t care, why should I?”

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with a form book, of course. If you are doing something for the first time it’s good to see how someone else did it. The mistakes are in believing that this the only way to do it, or that the form shouldn’t be changed at all. The mistake is in ignoring your audience.

Jarvis used sheet music to get her songs down when learning them. But then she adapted each song, just as the lawyer must adapt each and every argument (if, that is, you actually want to communicate a point to the judge)

Jarvis was a virtuoso when it came to the organ and the crowd. And that was because she didn’t sit back and rely on the forms she started with.

A 2008 article in the Daily News described Jarvis’s experience this way:

When it comes to music and the Mets, Jarvis once wrote the book. “I made all the decisions,” she says. She had a song for when the Mets trotted to their positions, and a song for when they smacked a homer, and then there was the Mexican Hat Dance to get things going when the home team really needed it during the seventh-inning stretch. An entire generation of Met fans came to identify the team’s championship run in 1969 with her lilting keyboard work. 

Rest in peace.

(P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 17 days. I think Jarvis would want me to mention that)



April 1st, 2008

Supreme Court Grants Cert in "Fantasy Baseball" Case; Three Justices Recuse Themselves Due To Participation in High Court League

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari today in the “Fantasy Baseball” case of CBC Distribution v. Major League Baseball Advanced Media. The suit is remarkable not only for the First Amendment and right to publicity issues that form the basis of the dispute, but because Justices John Paul Stevens, Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer recused themselves due to their participation in a fantasy baseball league comprised of current and past court personnel. Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who also participate in the league, declined to disqualify themselves, exposing a non-ideological split in the court on the issue of when justices should step aside when conflicts appear.

Coming up from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the suit revolves around the use of real statistics generated by players at the major league level for use in fantasy leagues (also known as “Rotisserie” baseball). These rotisserie leagues, generally comprised of 10-12 teams, draft players from major league rosters at the start of the year and then use actual statistics to determine their fantasy league standings. Teams pay fees at the start of the season for a stat service to compile those standings, with additional money usually contributed to create a pool for the winner.

The litigation arose because the growing popularity of the leagues created a huge industry of services to compute those stats to determine placements. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 19.4 million people are now actively playing in a fantasy sport league in the U.S. and Canada, with total revenues of $2 billion last year, and it has spread overseas. CBS Sports, ESPN and Yahoo are among some of the giant companies that have built extensions of their core business to profit from the fantasy leagues.

Major League Baseball has been trying to grab a piece of that action, which they see as their own, wanting to license out the names and statistics of the players. MLB claimed a violation of the right to publicity by the various services. Plaintiff CBC Marketing, by contrast, argued that the information is in the public domain and that they have a right under the First Amendment to use it for their statistics service. The Eighth Circuit held that the First Amendment trumped baseballs’ right to publicity, and MLB petitioned the high court for a hearing. The issues have prompted countless articles and blog postings (some linked below) and law review articles at Harvard (via Concurring Opinions) and Ohio State.

The disqualifications of the three justices come from some of the court’s biggest baseball fans, who are involved in the Supreme Court’s own fantasy league (more below). If they were to vote against Major League Baseball in the suit they would be deciding in favor of their own economic interests. Depriving the court of its stalwart fans can’t be a good thing for the fantasy players. As it happens, I speculated just two weeks ago that one or two justices might run into this problem: Recusal In the High Court…For Fantasy Baseball? The court is now deprived of a full 9-person team to field the case. (Sorry, had to say that. It’s my blog and I get to write that sort of thing.)

According to the controlling statute, 28 U.S.C. 455, the justices should step aside if they have a personal bias concerning anyone in the case, or independent knowledge of the facts in dispute; if they worked on the case as a private or government lawyer; or if they or close relatives have a financial interest in the case. The issue of recusal has been a hot topic in the legal blogosphere (see, Bashman, Volokh, Bainbridge, SCOTUSblog), where it most often appears in the context of stock ownership. This is the first time in the modern era that three justices at the high court have recused themselves in the same case, where six justice represent a quorum.

Each of the recusals (and the non-recusals) come with a history:

Justice Alito — a huge Phillies fan and a former participant in a fantasy baseball camp — had been embarrassed back in 2005 when he was still on the Third Circuit bench and wrote a decision involving mutual fund company Vanguard. The problem was that he also had investments in the company but had failed to disclose it. After his financial position became known he belatedly disqualified himself and the case went back to the court for reconsideration. Having been burned before he was apparently taking no chances today. Justice Breyer (who was honored at Fenway Park in 2006) shares ownership duties with Alito and likewise removed himself from the case.

Their recusal under the ethics law, 28 U.S.C. 455(b)(4) comes because a justice “shall” disqualify himself if he has “a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy …” While the cost of a stat service for a league isn’t much, the statute does not have a minimum financial standard and seems to speak in absolute terms with use of the words “shall” and “a financial interest.”

Justice Stevens — who has in his chambers a framed 1932 Yankees-Cubs World Series scorecard, a game he may have attended as a 12 year old growing up in Chicago, as well as an autographed Cal Ripkin baseball — cited one of his past decisions and a different section of 28 U.S.C. 455 in stepping aside. Having previously analyzed section (a) of the judicial ethics law dealing with the appearance of partiality, he wrote in 1988 in Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp that “the very purpose of [this law] is to promote confidence in the judiciary by avoiding even the appearance of impropriety whenever possible.” Since his participation here could give that appearance due to his interest in the league, even if minimal, he likewise removed himself from the case.

Neither Justice Scalia or his teammate Justice Ginsburg — who came of age in Brooklyn during the late 40s and 50s of the storied Dodgers, and who wrote the court’s opinion in U.S. v. Cleveland Indians — will step aside, however, despite their participation in the league and the law’s straightforward language. Scalia had famously failed to to recuse himself in a 2004 case involving his friend and hunting partner Vice President Dick Cheney. He wrote, “If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court Justice can be bought so cheap, the Nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined.”

The Supreme Court justices make their recusal decisions without judicial review, thereby giving each one wide discretion on whether or not to step aside. The non-ideological split in the court over the ethics law exposes the somewhat arbitrary standards that the justices use in identical personal circumstances and how it results in different outcomes. Testifying before the Senate two years ago on the issue, American University law professor Amanda Frost said of the “ad hoc, opaque, and unchecked quality” manner that these decisions were made:

This procedural vacuum has, I believe, been the cause for recurring controversies over judges’ failure to recuse — controversies that undermine the very goal of section 455 to protect the integrity of the judicial branch.

Background on the recusals came to me from a former law school classmate and avid fantasy baseball player who formally worked at the court, after reading my speculation two weeks ago on the issue. While obviously not wanting to be identified here, s/he told me of a trip to Florida two weeks back for an annual spring training vacation with friends and to watch a cousin, Siddhartha Finch, at the New York Mets’ spring camp in Port St. Lucie. Over twenty years ago Finch gave up a promising baseball opportunity to pursue a career with the French horn. He is trying to become the first rookie over the age of 50 to break into the big league as part of a book project. My friend also bumped into Monica Bay, who was likewise making annual rounds of the spring camps.

Finch, I was told, was then picked up this past weekend by the Alito/Breyer team at their annual draft. He was added to their reserve roster in the event of an injury to a player on the main roster. (Finch will be starting the year at the Mets’ Double-A affiliate in Binghamton.)

In addition to the five justices, there are players from among past and current clerks, marshals and others on the court’s support staff, with many of the teams sporting multiple owners in order to share the considerable amount of research that goes in to competing. Other gossip from the high court league, which comes from rotisserie forums and listserves that I participate in:

  • The high court league has been around for years, and is known as Articles For Deletion, based on an old spoof about amending substantial parts of the Constitution to increase the court’s power. When the league was named, there was a vote between AFD and Least Dangerous League (a spin on Alexander Hamilton’s comment about the judiciary being the “least dangerous branch” of government). AFD won after the ten original fantasy teams deadlocked and the tie was broken with a coin toss held in the court’s conference room.
  • The passionate interest in baseball at the court led the Supreme Court website Oyez.org to compare each justice to a different player at the end of their respective biographies. For example, John Jay, the first Chief Justice, is compared with Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, and Thurgood Marshall with Emmet Ashford, the first black umpire. You can test your baseball/Supreme Court knowledge at the site with any justice you want.
  • Stevens, teamed with retired administrative clerk Ernie Thayer, drafted the much despised Jimmy Blake. This prompted a good deal of abuse about a judge drafting a player with legal problems, and the “what if” factor if the case ever came before the court.
  • Scalia and Ginsburg’s team also includes a federal marshal and is called “The Three Sopranos,” merging their tastes for opera and an HBO show.

Major League Baseball is represented by Sidley Austin. It’s petition for certiori can be found here. Oral argument could potentially be scheduled during the World Series this October.

(Full Disclosure: I’m entering my 19th year in one of these leagues. My brother, and co-owner of The Turkeys, was working on draft preparation two weeks back while sitting jury duty. He described our two year plan to a USA Today columnist last year in these two pieces. Our draft was held Saturday. We expect to win it all. But since we’ve never won, and last year we came in last, don’t even think of e-mailing us for advice.)

And so the question remains: Should the justices recuse themselves (Stevens/Alito/Breyer) for this type of connection to a case or not (Scalia/Ginsburg)?

More on the underlying suit can be found at these blogs:

Update: A number of blogs have taken note of the breaking story, and comments are plentiful. This will be updated again as the story develops: