William S. Stevens: 1948-2008

So there’s this thing just about every first year law student reads called “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule.” It’s a law review note from the 70s that draws an analogy between the infield fly rule and the Anglo-American common law, each of which were refined with incremental changes over time and each of which can be maddeningly confusing to the average observer. It’s quite a famous bit of legal writing, as these things go, and it’s dryly funny too. Given its subject, it was one of the few things I read in law school that I actually enjoyed and actually remember. Legal beagles who haven’t read it can find it at 123 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1474 (1975).

Sadly, the fellow who wrote it has died:

William S. Stevens, whose slyly humorous law-review note on the relationship between baseball’s infield fly rule and Anglo-American common law became one of the most celebrated and imitated analyses in American legal history, died Monday in Anchorage, where he was working. He was 60 and lived in Narberth, Pa. The cause was a heart attack, said T. Dennis Sullivan, his brother-in-law . . .

. . . Mr. Stevens contributed many articles to The Philadelphia Lawyer, the magazine of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and was a member of its editorial board. None achieved the reputation of the infield fly note, which grew out of his passionate love for baseball and his abandoned plans to write a magisterial multivolume work with the title “Doubleday on Baseball.”

“It has given me far more than the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol said I should get,” he told Mr. Jarvis. “With recent flurries of interest in the piece, I am probably up to 21 minutes and 15 seconds.”

He added: “My ego is simultaneously flattered and bruised by the notion that something I cranked out more than 25 years ago would prove to be the highlight of my professional and academic careers.”

He shouldn’t have worried much about his ego. Most of us in this profession make no real mark and bring no real joy to anyone. Stevens did both, and for that I’ll always have a good thought in my head and a good feeling in my heart for the guy.

(thanks to Jason for the heads up)

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Comments

  1. matt said...

    Infield fly rule or study for my contracts exam that starts in three hours… tough choice.  (I think we all know what I’m choosing.)

    Statute of wha????

    I’d probably be at Harvard or Yale or something if it weren’t for my love of baseball.

  2. Mike Dolson said...

    Canadian law needs something like this.  Desperately.  Instead, we’ll get a criminal case and headnote in a couple of years when the whole Bertuzzi thing clears itself up.  You guys have it good; infield fly rule and the Bonds baseball and all.

  3. blaze said...

    C,mon. Lawyers have brought indirect joy – or at least many giggles – to lots of people. Two lawyers and a priest walk into a bar…

  4. john said...

    I didnt get clear idea about Angelo-American law still.In particular,the most frequently asked question is: what are the differences between a Foundation and a Trust of the Anglo-American variety.I feel sad when i read this article..
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