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Meet the Mets-loving Florida judge who teaches a law school class — at CHS Field?

For one weekend every summer, Louis H. Schiff — a 1980 Hamline University law grad and a Broward County judge — teaches a class that melds his two longtime passions: baseball and the law.

Louis H. Schiff
Louis H. Schiff: “I get more enjoyment out of this than anything I teach.”
Courtesy of Tim Post

The CHS Field press box lacks the trappings of a typical law school class, but it fits Louis H. Schiff like a custom ballcap. For one weekend every summer, Schiff — a 1980 Hamline University law grad and a Broward County (Fla.) court judge — returns to St. Paul to teach a class called Law and the Business of Baseball at his alma mater, now the Mitchell-Hamline School of Law. The syllabus melds his two longtime passions.

As a 12-year-old growing up on Long Island, Schiff successfully argued one of his earliest cases before his mother Sally, convincing her to let him ride the Long Island Rail Road with a pal unchaperoned to Shea Stadium for the 1968 Mets home opener. (The Mets beat the Giants, 3-0, with rookie left-hander Jerry Koosman out-pitching National League Cy Young Award winner Mike McCormick.)  

Tall with graying hair and scholarly wire-rimmed glasses, Schiff serves as an adjunct at several law schools. Seven years ago he developed this one-credit, two-day course as a companion to a casebook he was writing with Robert M. Jarvis, Baseball and the Law: Cases and Materials, published in 2016. Schiff originally taught the course at Target Field before relocating in 2015 to newly-opened CHS Field.    

“What I do now, this baseball class, this is the most fun I have all year,” Schiff said last Friday, the day before the class convened at the St. Paul Saints stadium in Lowertown. “I get more enjoyment out of this than anything I teach.”

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Schiff is a bit of character, closer to Harry Anderson’s judge from Night Court than John Houseman’s stern law professor from The Paper Chase. He peppers his lectures with one-liners and whimsical observations, tapping his status as one of the Miami Marlins’ scarce season ticket holders for comic relief. After eighteen students — 10 men and eight women — filed into the press box last Saturday morning, Schiff cracked, “There are more people here than at a Marlins game.” (That wasn’t much of a stretch; Miami ranks last in MLB attendance, averaging less than 10,000 a night.) 

The students found seats around long tables assembled in a rectangle, back from the windows facing the field. Many got into the spirit of the class, from caps — Twins, Brewers, Cubs — to baseball-themed T-shirts. Schiff perked up when he noticed Ashley Kiner of Minnetonka in a white Pittsburgh Pirates jersey with the No. 4 of Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, a distant relative and a Mets television broadcaster for more than four decades. Schiff recalled a quote often attributed to Branch Rickey, then the general manager of the woeful Pirates, during a contract dispute with Kiner: “We finished last with you. We can finish last without you.”   

Had things broken differently in his life, Schiff might be nearing the end of a long career in baseball. The Schiff family moved to South Florida in 1972, his senior year in high school, and Schiff enrolled at the University of Florida to study journalism. For two summers he interned for Yankees’ Class A farm club in Fort Lauderdale, doing everything from ushering to public relations to filling in as the official scorer; he wrote a scorecard feature called “Yankee Doodles.” He palled around with Hank Steinbrenner, son of George, and met The Boss himself, who Schiff said offered him a job with the Yankees. But Schiff’s father, Mel, insisted he go to law school first.

There’s a story behind that, too. Schiff likes to poke fun at his academic record. He said he applied to 11 law schools, and Hamline was the only one that accepted him. (That’s not quite accurate. Nova, in Davie. Fla., also offered to take him, he said, but well after he committed to Hamline.) Schiff told the class he graduated “in the top 89 percent of my class,” a self-deprecating reference he had to repeat because it didn’t register right away. Describing the state of Florida “inviting” him to take the bar exam a second time, after failing the first, drew a more knowing reaction.

Elected five times to the Broward County bench, most recently last year, Schiff always retained a passion for baseball. He belongs to the South Florida chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. He and Jarvis spent almost three years writing the 1,040-page casebook, which won SABR’s 2017 Baseball Research Award. Schiff reveres the 1969 Miracle Mets; don’t be surprised if he titles his next book, “Driving Art Shamsky.”

Schiff began his class with the earliest legal reference he and Jarvis found to baseball, a 1791 Pittsfield, Mass. law prohibiting ball-playing within 80 yards of the village’s new meeting hall, meant to protect the windows. The penalty: Five shillings. 

Then he guided his students through nine sections, or “innings,” over two days, most featuring a guest speaker: SABR member and Twins official scorer Stew Thornley; Saints executive vice president Tom Whaley, an attorney before turning to baseball; Saints impresario Mike Veeck; and Notre Dame emeritus law professor Ed Edmonds, who reviewed the earliest challenges to baseball’s reserve clause, beginning in the late 19th century. Back then, players who jumped from team to team were called “revolvers.” Who knew?  

“I don’t know of any better pastimes than baseball and the law,” Schiff said.