NEWARK, N.J. – A New Jersey appeals court on Thursday upheld a $1.5 million jury award to former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams stemming from his firing by the MLB Network in 2014 over his alleged conduct at a youth baseball tournament.
The former closer, nicknamed “Wild Thing” for his on-field antics with the Phillies and five other major league teams, sued after the network cited a morals clause in his contract to terminate him.
Williams, who pitched for the Phillies in the 1993 World Series, was hired as an analyst to a five-year contract with MLB Network in 2011.
Two articles on the sports website Deadspin described his alleged behaviour at a May 2014 tournament in Maryland involving a team of 10-year-olds that included Williams’ son.
Williams swore at umpires and ordered one of his pitchers to throw at an opposing batter, the articles claimed. Williams denied the allegations.
Two umpires’ accounts later differed on whether Williams used profanity, and none could be heard on audio and video recorded at the game, according to Thursday’s ruling. Some witnesses who were at the game testified they didn’t hear Williams tell his pitcher to throw at the opposing player.
After the articles were published, the network put Williams on leave and asked him to sign an agreement saying he would refrain from attending or coaching youth games and not post on social media without the network’s approval.
Williams declined, and he was terminated in June 2014.
After a jury in Camden County decided in his favour in 2017, the network appealed, arguing the trial judge made unfair evidence rulings and erred by not dismissing the case before it went to trial.
The appeals court disagreed, writing Thursday that “the trial court fairly dealt with the abundant legal and evidentiary issues presented by both sides — before, during, and after the trial.
“We are satisfied the trial judge and the jury resolved the parties’ disputes in this case fairly and soundly, and did so based on ample relevant evidence and general legal principles,” the panel added.
An MLB Network spokesman said Thursday the network is reviewing the ruling and assessing its options.