Supreme Court Sluggers: James Iredell


The Supreme Court existed for about a dozen years before John Marshall became Chief Justice in 1801. Until recently, in some instances quite recently, scholars tended to neglect those early years and the judges who served on the Court during them. That is why Supreme Court Sluggers cards of the early Court are good vehicles for saluting – if only partially and imperfectly – some great baseball players who also were neglected until recently (and who suffered treatment worse than neglect in their playing days). Sluggers cards of the original pre-Marshall Court – Chief Justice John Jay and Justices John Rutledge, William Cushing, James Wilson, John Blair, and James Iredell – will be based on negro league stars who were denied (for most of their careers, at least) opportunities to play in the major leagues due to race discrimination. The first Sluggers card of a member of the founding-era Court – the card featured in this little article – portrays Justice Iredell in the batting stance of longtime Homestead Grays first baseman Walter “Buck” Leonard. (The nickname came courtesy of a young sibling who tried to call him “Buddy” but pronounced it “Bucky,” and it stuck for life as “Buck.”) On the statistical side, the Iredell card reflects another similarity between the early Justices and the players on whom their portraits are modeled: the sources of job performance data are fragmentary (as well as being sometimes hard to parse), at least compared to those for modern Justices and major leaguers.