A defamation lawsuit filed against Major League Baseball and the Los Angeles Angels by Brian Harkins, the longtime clubhouse attendant who was fired for supplying illegal ball-doctoring substances to pitchers, has been struck down in Orange County Superior Court.
Judge Geoffrey T. Glass granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Harkins' complaint, stating there was not enough evidence to prove Harkins had been defamed in the wake of his firing.
A hearing was held on Jan. 21 to determine whether the case would move forward, and the judge's ruling was released Monday. Dan Rasmussen, an attorney for Harkins, said he plans to appeal.
Harkins was fired last March, ending a nearly four-decade run with the Angels, after the organization was informed by MLB that he was providing pitchers with an illegal blend of rosin and pine tar.
Harkins' original complaint, alleging defamation and false light, outlined the reasons applying rosin and pine tar on baseballs has been a long-held, accepted practice done largely for safety reasons and stated that the publicity surrounding his firing unfairly cast him in a negative light that impacted his ability to find employment.
MLB and the Angels filed a motion to dismiss Harkins' complaint in early November. In an opposition to that motion, Harkins' lawyers aimed to depict the widespread use of Harkins' concoction and show that others had not been punished for similar, if not more serious, transgressions. It included a January 2019 text message from Gerrit Cole in which he clearly asked Harkins for his blend, as well as notes from a phone conversation in which Justin Verlander allegedly told Harkins that MLB began to crack down on pitchers' use of ball-doctoring substances when it learned teams were conducting studies to concoct more advanced blends in order to maximize pitchers' spin rates.
The opposition also included declarations from longtime major league players Wally Joyner and Mike Sweeney defending Harkins and named several pitchers -- including Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright, as well as several current and former Angels -- who previously asked Harkins for his blend.
In its decision, the court weighed three central issues -- whether Harkins was truly fired because of his concoction of rosin and pine tar, whether he provided it to pitchers and whether doing so was illegal. The fact Harkins didn't dispute the first two issues and that the third is supported by Rule 6.02(c) hurt the plaintiff's side.
Another factor was that comments from MLB and the Angels toward Harkins were made in private, and that subsequent reports about the reason for his firing were attributed to unnamed sources.
"This is not to say that the termination was justified under the circumstances," the judge's ruling read, "only that the plaintiff cannot show that these statements were false and defamatory."