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Former MLB Pitched David Cone Testifies at Sonia Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, July 16, 2009 6:39 PM

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Canterbury.

Next is David Cone. David Cone is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who, over an 18-year career, played for five teams in both the American and National Leagues. Mr. Cone won the American League Cy Young Award in 1994 and pitched a perfect game in 1999 as a member of the New York Yankees.

He was a member of the Major League Baseball Players Association throughout his Major League career and was an officer from 1994 through 2000.

Thank you very much for being here, Mr. Cone.

CONE: Thank you, Senator Klobuchar.

Senator Sessions, Senator Hatch, nice to see you again.

On behalf of all Major League players, both former and current, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge the unique role that Judge Sonia Sotomayor played in preserving America's pastime.

As you know, I'm not a lawyer, much less a Supreme Court scholar. I was a professional baseball player from the time I was drafted out of high school in 1981 until the time I retired in 2003. I was also a union member and an officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

As is well known, Major League Baseball has a long history of acrimonious labor relations. It was not until the 1970s that players first gained the right to free agency and salary arbitration. This meant that, for the first time ever, players were able to earn what they were worth and have some choice about where they played.

The next 20 years were quite difficult. There was a lockout or strike at the end of every contract. To the players, every -- every dispute seemed to center upon the owners' desire to roll back free agency rights the players had won.

But 1994 was the worst. The owners said that they wanted the salary cap and refused to promise that they would abide by the rules of the just-expired contract after the season ended. Believing we had no choice, the players went on strike in August of 1994. I should note that this was before Congress passed the Curt Flood Act, authored by Senators Hatch and Leahy, which made it clear that baseball's antitrust exemption could not be used to undermine federal law.

In response, the owners canceled the remainder of the season, which meant that there would be no World Series. Discussions continued through the fall and the early winter, but were fruitless. In December of 1994, the owners unilaterally implemented a salary cap and imposed new rules and conditions on employment which would have made free agency virtually meaningless. And they announced they would start the 1995 season with so-called replacement players instead of major leaguers.

We did not think the owners were negotiating in good faith, as they were required to do under federal law. We went to the National Labor Relations Board. The board agreed with us and went to federal court to seek an injunction against the owners' unilateral changes.

The United States district judge who drew the case was Judge Sotomayor. The rest is history, or at least baseball history. Judge Sotomayor found that the owners had engaged in bad-faith bargaining. She -- she issued an injunction. Her decision stopped the owners from imposing new work rules, ended our strike, and got us all back on the field.

The words she wrote cut right to the heart of the matter, and I quote: "This strike is about more than just whether the players and owners will resolve their differences. It's also about how the principles embodied by by federal law operate. This strike has placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial. Issuing an injunction by opening day is important to ensure that the symbolic value of that day is not tainted by an unfair labor practice and the NLRB's inability to take effective steps against its perpetuation."

Judge Sotomayor grasped not only the complexity of the case but its importance to our sport. Her decision was upheld by a unanimous Court of Appeals panel comprised of judges appointed by different presidents from different parties with different juridical philosophies.

On the day he announced her nomination, President Obama observed that some have said Judge Sotomayor saved baseball. Others may think this is an overstatement, but look at it this way. A lot of people, both inside and outside of baseball, tried to settle the dispute.

Presidents, special mediators, secretaries of labor, members of Congress all tried to help but were not successful. With one decision, Judge Sotomayor changed the entire dispute. Her ruling rescued the 1995 baseball season and forced the parties to resume real negotiations.

The negotiations were not easy but ultimately were successful, which in turn led to an improved relationship between the owners and the players. Today baseball is currently enjoying a run of more than 14 years without interruption, a record that would have been inconceivable in the 1990s.

I believe all of us who have loved the game, players, owners and fans, are in her debt. If Judge Sotomayor is confirmed, I hope the rest of the country will realize, as the players did in 1995, that it can be a good thing to have a judge or a justice on the Supreme Court who recognizes that the law cannot always be separated from the realities involved and the disputes being decided.

Thank you again, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you very much, Mr. Cohn (ph).

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