January 10, 2013
In A Pickle
Jay Walking is no Felony
Darren Oliver is, depending on your perspective, in something of a pickle or a greedy bastard who should just shut up and throw the ball like he agreed to. The gist of his situation is:
You can read the full facts as told by Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi at FOX Sports by clicking that link.
Blue Jays writer Andrew Stoeten has been following the story. On January 4, he posted this at Drunk Jays Fans. You should read the story because Mr. Stoeten is good at what he does, but what really caught my eye were the comments: 188 of them at this writing, many of which fall on the "greedy bastard" side of things. The essence of their argument is that Oliver agreed to play baseball for the Blue Jays at the rate of $3 million per annum if the Blue Jays decided that they wanted to pay him that (i.e. if they exercised the option) and that threatening to retire if he's not paid more (or traded to a team closer to his family) is immoral or in bad faith.
This position does not hold for at least three reasons: contracts are economic, not moral; Oliver hasn't taken any unfair advantages in attempting to get more money than his contract says he is owed; and we as fans don't have any right to judge his behavior vis a vis the team in any case.
Morality or $$$
Contracts are not moral devices. Contracts are business agreements that governments have seen fit to enforce using the myriad powers of the state because such enforcement renders business relations more predictable and thus reduces the costs associated with uncertainty. If the cheese producers of America had to negotiate a new price, new delivery terms, new shipping standards, and new quality thresholds with the milk producers of America every time they needed a resupply, cheese would have to sell at a very high price to cover the additional costs associated with all that negotiation. It is expedient to be able to set all those terms once for some period of time or some number of shipments and to be able to rely on those terms. The entire edifice of contract boils down to that: we as a society have decided that we're all better off economically if we hold people to their bargains.
Despite the existence of government enforcement, companies breach contracts all the time. A first-year law student reads dozens of cases for her Contracts class, every single one of which arose from a breach of a contract over which someone sued. My Contracts professor explained the great volume of breached contracts this way, with the background that there are 950 cases in our textbook: out of all contracts, some tiny percentage are breached; out of all breaches, some tiny percentage result in lawsuits; out of all lawsuits, some tiny percentage result in a court judgment; out of all judgments, some tiny percentage are appealed; and out of all appeals, some tiny percentage are interesting and weird and instructive enough to end up in a casebook. Thus, if you work backwards from the number of cases in a casebook (again, 950 in my case) to the number of breaches, you're talking about multiplying by a number with many zeroes. Even considering that the book covers a significant period of time in Anglo-American law (a few cases stretch back to the early 19th century), I hope it's clear that breach is incredibly common.