At Bat With “Happy” Felsch & American Baseball’s Lessons For Lawyers

The career of Happy Felsch—American center fielder in Major League Baseball—didn’t end as well as his name began.

On August 14, 1919, Oscar Emil “Happy” Felsch tied the record of four outfield assists in a game, the same year his team, the White Sox, won the pennant. By September 1920, however, the White Sox lost the 1919 World Series, and Happy was banned from the game altogether.

Can one year change a career?

Happy Felsch’s story can teach lawyers a few lessons about the long-term consequences of short-term thinking.

Happy was implicated in what was soon known as the Black Sox Scandal, where eight players were accused of intentionally sabotaging the World Series in order to lose the game. In doing so, the players received money from a group of gamblers who cashed in on the deceit.

Happy’s portion of the sad deal was $5,000, which—at the time—must have seemed like an enormous sum for the player whose annual (and honest) salary amounted to $2,750. A few missed flyball plays in the outfield and some bad at-bats where all it took for Happy to seal his fate forever.

Happy was quoted in the Chicago American:

“Well, the beans are spilled and I think I’m through with baseball. I got $5,000. I could have got just about that much by being on the level if the Sox had won the Series. And now I’m out of baseball—the only profession I know anything about, and a lot of gamblers have gotten rich. The joke seems to be on us.”

Lesson 1 for lawyers:

Always create two legal strategies with two payout predictions. One for the long-term and one for the short-term. Never short-cut ethics to save a few bucks.

Before the scandal broke, during his last year in Major League Baseball, Happy had his best season yet, with a batting average of .338 comprising of 14 home runs and 115 runs batted in. Happy could have hit more records out of the park if only he had played by the rules.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis deemed all eight players permanently ineligible for organized baseball in 1920. They all went down swinging.

In 1989, the film Field of Dreams, a great American cinema classic, was created based on the scandal and letting to players play another game of baseball, adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.

Lesson 2 for lawyers:

Outside the courtroom and into the boardroom, you can’t count on appeals or dreamy second-chances. Manage your current team of law firm professionals with firmness, fairness, and a rulebook of transparent policies. Attract new members with an honest description of the job. If you do it, they will come.

Finally, it’s true in a baseball career and in a legal one: wrongdoing that damages your reputation is worse than damage in your finances. Happy got to play again in amateur leagues. But, for him, there was no repair for his legacy.

Baseball, as a sport, was also tarnished from the scandal. Similarly, the actions of lawyers reflect on the law and the profession as a whole.

Lesson 3 for lawyers:

Work on your PR and pro-bono cases. A little good goes a long way!

Lawyers are among the unhappiest employees in America. A few lessons about “being Happy” can turn that around.

-WB

Read more about Happy’s major league career here.

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