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Nobody really believed that Judge Cooper would rule on the legality of the reserve system. Every precedent indicated that this was a job for the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, it was theoretically possible that he might liberate me to play ball while the broader issues were being tried. He declared that the law forbade that. On March 4, 1970, when my body was aching for the exertions of baseball, he denied the injunction and recommended that the merits of the reserve system be dealt with in a full-dress trial.
The press descended. I wanted out. My photography business was foundering. I had not been able to pick up a paintbrush in weeks. And a venture in a restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, begun earlier, was in its death throes. But I went ahead and gave my usual spiel. Nothing had changed, I said. I would proceed step by step until a conclusion was reached. Yes, I supposed that my career was over, although I was ready to resume at any time possible. No, I was not trying to ruin the national pastime. Yes, a principle was worth more than $100,000 a year. Yes, a peon remains a peon no matter how much money you give him. I could scarcely stand when the newsmen left, yet I felt better. I had been upchucking for two days, but now it stopped.
The trial was to be held in New York before Judge Cooper. Shortly before it started, Monte Irvin telephoned. Irvin had been a great player in the old Negro leagues and with the New York Giants. Now he was working in Kuhn's office. He said that the commissioner wanted to have a private chat with me. Kuhn had cleared the whole thing with Justice Goldberg's office. Would I meet him in Los Angeles?
"Dammit, Monte, the last guy who saw the commissioner for an informal chat wound up getting a boot," I said, thinking of Denny McLain.
"He'd have been in worse trouble if he hadn't come in," said Irvin. This sounded to me like a veiled threat.
Then came another call from Irvin. The commissioner would pay my expenses to Los Angeles.
"The commissioner has worked out a deal," Irvin told a friend who answered the phone. "Curt can play for any National League club of his choice without jeopardizing the litigation."
"Oh, come on, Monte. You know the commissioner can't change the rules of the federal judiciary. If Curt plays ball, his case is wrecked. Now tell us what the commissioner really wants."
"He's a very compassionate man," said Irvin. "He wants everybody to be happy."