Could the Angels Really Give Mike Trout a Lifetime Contract?

Consider this your periodic reminder of how awesome Mike Trout is. Including Sunday’s games, the best player in baseball has recorded a 192 wRC+, a career-high that leads all qualified hitters. He’s in the top 10 in the major leagues in homers (T-9th), walk rate (1st), BABIP (6th), isolated power (1st), batting average (5th), on-base percentage (1st), slugging percentage (3rd), and WAR (T-1st). He just crossed the nine-win mark for the fifth time in his career. He only just turned 27.

Based on reports, it appears as though the Angels expect this kind of production to continue for a while longer. Consider:

It’s not difficult to see Anaheim’s logic here. Mike Trout may very well end up as the greatest player ever, and that’s the sort of player you want to keep around because, well, he’s better than everyone else.

Of course, when Heyman use the word “lifetime” what he really means is “until that point at which Trout retires.” The Angels, presumably, would like one of baseball’s best ever players to end his career having played only for their team. There’s probably some value in that. How much value is a question for a different time, but “some” is an adequate answer for the moment.

But what if we were to understand “lifetime” in a more literal sense. What if, hypothetically, the Angels wanted to sign Mike Trout to an actual lifetime contract? Could they legally employ Mike Trout until he shuffles off this mortal coil, likely having hit 20 homers in each year of his 80s?

Unfortunately, the quick answer is “no.” Nathaniel Grow told us why a few years ago, and if you haven’t read his piece on that, you should. But here’s the relevant excerpt:

A relatively obscure provision under California law — specifically, Section 2855 of the California Labor Code — limits all personal services contracts (i.e., employment contracts) in the state to a maximum length of seven years. In other words, this means that if an individual were to sign an employment contract in California lasting eight or more years, then at the conclusion of the seventh year the employee would be free to choose to either continue to honor the agreement, or else opt out and seek employment elsewhere.

Well, that’s no fun.

If we want to keep this dream of a lifetime contract alive, we have to take some drastic measures. Specifically, we have to relocate the Angels. For the sake of this thought experiment, let’s assume that the organization, determined to employ Mike Trout till his death at a ripe old, switches places with the Mets. The Mets move to Anaheim; the Angels move to New York City.

Could the New York Angels sign Mike Trout to a lifetime contract?

Unfortunately, no. Again.

In a case called Hunnewell v. Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that lifetime contracts were unenforceable because they didn’t specify a definite term of employment, even if the employer promises. Saith the court: “The promises by defendant to which plaintiff points… do not explicitly state a definite term during which plaintiff could expect to remain employed.” Alas, most states agree with New York: lifetime contracts aren’t enforceable.

But there are two teams that could sign Trout to a lifetime contract legally: the Cubs and White Sox.

Yes, that’s right, the home of deep dish pizza also allows lifetime employment contracts. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in a case called McInerney v. Charter Golf, Inc., that lifetime employment is totally cool with state law, just so long as it’s in writing.

In the instant case, Charter Golf argues that an employee’s promise to forgo another employment offer in exchange for an employer’s promise of lifetime employment is not sufficient consideration. But why not? The defendant has failed to articulate any principled reason why this court should depart from traditional notions of contract law in deciding this case. While we recognize that some cases have indeed held that such an exchange is “inadequate” or “insufficient” consideration to modify an employment-at-will relationship, we believe that those cases have confused the conceptual element of consideration with more practical problems of proof. As we discussed above, this court has held that a promise for a promise constitutes consideration to support the existence of a contract. To hold otherwise in the instant case would ignore the economic realities underlying the case. Here McInerney gave up a lucrative job offer in exchange for a guarantee of lifetime employment; and in exchange for giving up its right to terminate McInerney at will, Charter Golf retained a valued employee. Clearly both parties exchanged bargained-for benefits in what appears to be a near textbook illustration of consideration.

So that’s it, then: Mike Trout can sign a lifetime contract in Illinois. The White Sox, it should be noted, did scout Trout in high school before deciding to pass, so there is at least some history there. But if he decided he didn’t want to play in Chicago, there’s one other place he could go to play baseball for life. It would likely require Trout to take some language lessons, though.

In Japan, lifetime employment is both legal and far less uncommon than in the United States. So maybe the Angels move to Tokyo. Or maybe the Nippon Ham Fighters, for instance, could legally sign Mike Trout to a contract guaranteeing him a lifetime commitment. Obviously, Trout would make far less money than he would in the United States, but if he’s hell-bent on playing forever, this may very well be the best way to do it. And could you imagine the numbers Mike Trout would put up in NPB while still in his prime?





Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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Kibber
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Kibber

words written on pieces of paper by people i will never know will not govern any aspect of my life
you should all seek the same – Namaste

TKDC
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TKDC

So you don’t have a mobile phone contract? Or an internet provider? Or a bank account? Oh shit, why did I respond to this trolling nonsense?

Joe Joe
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Member
Joe Joe

Quote basically says that Ms. Ring should ignore what you say. Interesting paradox in that if she ignores what you say, she is not ignoring the quote, but that if she takes the quote to heart, she isn’t following the path suggested by the quote.

Jaydog
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Jaydog

*One handed golf clap*

OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

What could possibly have upset you so much about this piece?

Nivra
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Nivra

I don’t know the OP, but I felt this piece was really underwhelming. The whole piece can be summed up as: “Angels want to offer Trout a lifetime contract, but the only state that allows lifetime employment contracts is Illinois.”

Maverik312
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Maverik312

IIRC, her forte on this site is law as it applies to baseball. All of her articles could just be a conclusion, but that’s no fun.