Baltimore Baseball Club & Exhibition Co. v. Pickett

Decision Date12 January 1894
Citation28 A. 279,78 Md. 375
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Appeal from superior court of Baltimore city; Albert Ritchie, Judge.

Action by John T. Pickett against the Baltimore Baseball Club & Exhibition Company of Baltimore City for breach of contract of hiring. From a judgment for plaintiff, defendant appeals. Affirmed.


E. N Rich and W. S. Bryan, Jr., for appellant.

John M Gallagher, for appellee.


This suit was brought for the alleged breach of a special contract of hiring. The contract was made and entered into by and between the Baltimore Baseball Club, of the city of Baltimore, party of the first part, and John T. Pickett, of the city of Chicago, party of the second part, and is in these words: That "the said party of the second part agrees to play ball for the party of the first part, for the season of 1892, for the sum of three thousand ($3,000) dollars, with five hundred dollars advanced on the contract said sum of five hundred dollars ($500) to be considered part of the said three thousand ($3,000) dollars above stated salary payable first and fifteenth of each month; services to commence on the 26th of March, 1892, and end on October 31st, 1892." The appellee, the plaintiff below, entered upon the services, and performed them until the 1st day of June, 1892, when he was discharged or released. He was paid the $500 advance money, and also four payments on account of his salary. The grounds set up for his discharge were want of skill and ability. The judgment was for the plaintiff, and the defendant has appealed. At the trial there were 10 exceptions reserved to the rejection by the court of evidence offered by the defendant, the third, ninth, and tenth of which were abandoned at the hearing. There were also exceptions to the granting of the first, fourth, and fifth prayers of the plaintiff, and to the rejection of the first, third, sixth, and eighth prayers of the defendant, and to the instruction on the part of the court. These exceptions form the basis of this appeal, and we will pass upon them in their regular order.

There were two defenses relied upon by the appellant: First. That the plaintiff did not exercise that degree of skill and efficiency required of professional baseball players playing in the league or association to which the defendant belonged, and was discharged for inefficiency. Secondly. That there was a universal and well-known custom, observed by all professional baseball clubs, that the club shall have the right, on 10 days' notice, to release any player who does not come up to the requirements of his position, and play satisfactorily; that the defendant received the 10 days' notice, and was discharged.

It will be observed that the contract in this case was a special one, for a precise period, definite in its terms, and is simply an ordinary hiring under a special contract. It is entirely silent as to the degree of skill the plaintiff should possess in the business for which he was employed. In the words of the contract, "he was to play ball for the Baltimore Baseball Club, the party of the first part, for the season of 1892." Now, it is a well-settled rule that the standard of comparison or test of efficiency is that degree of skill, efficiency, and knowledge which is possessed by those of ordinary skill, competency, and standing in the particular trade or business for which they are employed; and, as the contract provided for no higher degree of skill than this, none could be required. The supreme court of Pennsylvania lays down the doctrine to be: "Where skill as well as care is required in performing the undertaking, if the party purport to have skill in the business, and he undertakes for hire, he is bound to the exercise of due and ordinary skill in the employment of his art or business about it, or, in other words, to perform it in a workmanlike manner. In cases of this sort he must be understood to have engaged to use a degree of diligence and attention and skill adequate to the performance of his undertaking. 'Ordinary skill' means that degree which men engaged in that particular art usually employ, not that which belongs to a few men only, of extraordinary endowments and capacities." Waugh v. Shunk, 20 Pa. St. 133. Also, Harmer v. Cornelius, 5 C. B. (N. S.) 236; Parker v. Platt, 74 III. 432. This doctrine was fairly submitted to the jury by the first prayer of the plaintiff and the fourth prayer of the defendant, by which they were, in substance, told that if they found that the plaintiff did not possess and exercise the skill, knowledge, and efficiency possessed and exercised by other professional baseball players of ordinary skill, knowledge, and efficiency, and that he was discharged for such reasons, then their verdict must be for the defendant. A large number of witnesses, who had been professional baseball players for six or ten years, and who had played with the plaintiff, testified that they considered him a good player, and that he played an average good game of ball.

We pass now to the second question in the case. The contention on the part of the appellant is that the contract was made subject to a usage or custom that the club had a right to cancel the contract and discharge the player, on giving 10 days' notice, when the player is deficient in his playing. The contract is entirely silent upon this subject, and it is not admitted that the player had the reciprocal right to abandon the club or to cancel the contract when he deemed it proper or right to do so. We have carefully examined...

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