Damn Yankees lawsuit - Applegate v. Boyd


Thought this should go here and not Great Debates, but mods, move it if you like.

Warning: Spoilers!

I saw a local production of Damn Yankees a few weeks ago, and last night saw the 1958 film. It occurred to me, both times, that Joe Boyd - the old schlub who makes a deal with the Devil, er, Mr. Applegate to play for the Washington Senators baseball team - is still in trouble at the end of the show.

In the original play and movie, Applegate and Boyd had a simple oral contract:

  1. Applegate would make Boyd a great baseball player
  2. If so, Boyd would give Applegate his soul
  3. Boyd insisted on, and Applegate reluctantly granted, an escape clause which had to be exercised by a particular date and time

Applegate kept his end of the deal, making Boyd much younger and stronger; he became a great baseball player and, as “Joe Hardy,” led the Senators to a pennant win, defeating the, ahem, damn Yankees. Boyd did not avail himself of the escape clause in time. Applegate transformed “Hardy” back into Boyd at the very end of the big game, but Boyd was still able to make the winning catch. Boyd then ran home to embrace his long-suffering wife, and rebuffed a furious Applegate.

It seems to me that Applegate can still claim Boyd’s soul. Boyd had a winning season as a great baseball player, as promised, and didn’t use the escape clause. Applegate’s changing of “Hardy” back to Boyd during the last game is irrelevant - Applegate never promised Boyd that he’d play in the World Series, or even beyond that season - but even if it weren’t, Applegate could change him back into Hardy in the twinkling of an eye, any time before Hardy/Boyd died a natural death.

The movie ends with Applegate angry and frustrated, but I don’t know why. Looks like he’s still going to get what he bargained for - Joe’s immortal soul.

So in Applegate v. Boyd, who wins?

Whichever one hires Daniel Webster as counsel, of course.

Obviously, the play isn’t meant to be interpreted from a legal point of view and I don’t think it was necessarily written to be ironclad anyway. At least one version of Faust ends with Heaven basically telling Mephistopheles to fuck off so there’s precedent.

IIRC, Part one of the agreement (in the original play & movie; it was changed when it was revived) Joe Boyd says he’d sell his soul to see the Washington Senators win the pennant, not to be the ballplayer that wins it.

By changing Joe back at the very end of the big game, Applegate was working to prevent the Senators from winning. As Joe Boyd, they won despite Applegate’s efforts.

Since Applegate’s entire actions were to keep the Senators from winning, he was reneging on his agreement to help the Senators win. As such, he did not fulfil his part of the bargain and was actively working to sabotage it, making the agreement null and void.

Besides, he didn’t have heart.

Well, I’m not a civil law guy, but I am a big fan of musical theater, so I believe I can address this meaningfully. :slight_smile:

Good faith is an implied covenant of every contract. Applegate breaches the contract by conjuring Lola and inducing her to seduce Joe. He also falsely impugns Joe’s character, claiming he’s really a criminal, Shifty McShifty, on the run from the law. It’s the time taken defending himself from these charges that causes his time to run out, so Applegate essentially induced Joe’s inability to take the escape clause.

Even more civil courts will not enforce illegal or immoral contracts that are against public policy and require the Plaintiff to have “clean hands”, so it is doubtful that the court would enforce the contact.


Boyd could have exercised the escape clause on time, even though it would’ve disappointed his fans and been personally upsetting to him, but he didn’t. Applegate clearly tried to run out the clock on him, but Boyd knowingly, although unhappily, let the deadline pass. I don’t see that Applegate’s conjuring Lola or calling Joe a criminal affects the terms of the contract.

Whether Joe says (in various versions) either “I’d sell my soul for a [Senators] long ball hitter” or “I’d sell my soul to see the Senators win the pennant,” Applegate met his end of the bargain.

As an aside, in the “what we know now” category, watching Gwen Verdon try to seduce Tab Hunter in the film is one of my go to images for “barking up the wrong tree”.

(Verdon was playing an irresistible sex pot, which she could pull off on stage perhaps but not so much with close-ups, while Hunter was several years younger, gorgeous, and in-real-life gay.)

Just out of curiosity, in productions of Damn Yankees, Joe Boyd/Joe Hardy are played by two different actors. Have there been any productions where they had the same actor play both roles (i.e., have a young actor play Boyd with middle-age make-up and fat padding and then without as Hardy)?

I can’t say for certain, but it’s unlikely. The change from Joe Boyd to Joe Hardy happens too quickly to change costume and makeup. And in the revival, they sing A Man Never Knows together, so it would be impossible in that version.

I doubt it. Having two actors is traditional, like having the same actor play Captain Hook and Wendy’s father, having Peter Pan played by a woman, and Edna Turnblad a man in drag.

It would also be impossible to stage – the original transition takes place in the middle of a song, with only a few seconds leeway.

That is my thought, the question is was the contract oral or in writing? This reminds me of Fantasy Island where Ricardo Montalban has a go with the devil every now and then and has similar contracts or such??

If it was a written contract, the Parol Evidence Rule disallows oral substitutions.

If it was an oral contract, any oral substitutions that alter the original have too many variables as to veracity of the original, and here fraud and deception are the elements that applegate relies on to win.

This youtube video seems to be from an amateur production (though I would have loved to have been able to duplicate the stagecraft back when I was doing this stuff). It’s the first scene of the musical after the opening song. You can skip to about the 7 minute mark. Or just read the relevant dialog:

So when Applegate switches Joe Hardy back to Joe Boyd, he’s pulled a trick and has rendered the oral contract null and void. He has lost Joe’s soul, and has once again proven the American Tort System to be the best in the world.

And stick around to about 11:10 to see the switch and see why using one actor could never have worked.

I saw that about 15 years back. Could not believe how embarrassing it was to watch.
“Nah, no chemistry…”

Neither Applegate nor Boyd got everything he wanted. But Lola always did.

As I wrote in the OP, it was an oral contract. See pp. 10-16 here (warning: .pdf): DYFullScript.pdf

Ah, I haven’t seen this play in years, I need to scrounge a copy somewhere [I think my brother has a copy, he is an old movie buff also]

I would say that I agree, Applegate screwed himself. if he had played it straight, he most likely would have collected - as more people have pointed out, he screwed himself by cheating.

And besides, Boyd could afford to hire Daniel Webster [or his equivalent from this decade:p]

An up-to-date version of that could be amusing, if he were to attempt to hire the contemporary version of Daniel Webster and wound up being represented by Emmanuel Lewis. :smiley:

Or Johnnie Cochran? No telling where he ended up.