James Quirk, 1926–2020

James "Jim" P. Quirk, a former professor of economics at Caltech noted for his research into the economics of sports, died in June 2020, the Institute has recently learned. He was 93.

Quirk was born in 1926 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a degree in civil engineering from Marquette University in 1945, a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota in 1948, and a master's and doctorate of economics in 1949 and 1959, respectively, also from the University of Minnesota.

His early career included stints at St. Mary's University in Texas, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, and the University of Kansas.

He arrived at Caltech as a professor of economics in 1971, the same year he published "An Economic Model of a Professional Sports League," which he co-authored with Mohamed El-Hodiri, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas. The paper looked at the economic structures of professional sports to examine whether they should be exempt from antitrust regulations.

It was one of many papers Quirk published concerning the economics of sports, though his academic interests were varied. He also authored economics papers on space-station design, defense contracting, dams and reservoirs, boxing regulations, nuclear power, and capital gains.

He was part of a group of Caltech professors, along with Charles R. Plott, the William D. Hacker Professor of Economics and Political Science, who pushed for the creation of a PhD program in economics. The program was established in 1972.

"Jim was an architect of Caltech's HSS Division who influenced all of the early faculty hires and the content of instruction," Plott says. "His research developed areas of economic theory for conditions where only limited measurements are available and in particular, produced fundamental features of stability for cases where only the signs of changes are observable. Throughout the 1980s, his research and textbooks led the transition of economics into modern mathematical economics, and his work with students was important for the development and success of the social sciences at Caltech."

Quirk retired from Caltech in 1987.

He was a longtime fan of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team and the University of Kansas Jayhawks basketball team. He also loved jazz and played the coronet in several jazz bands, recording an album with the Salty Dogs Jazz Band, and led the Dungeness Traditional Jazz Band from 2002 to 2013.

Quirk, who was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley Mae Krois; and his son, James Patrick; is survived by his five children: Gail DeFord, Janice (Bascom) Ratliff, Jill (Roger) Powell, Colleen (Don) Stone, and Thomas (Elizabeth) Quirk, plus nine grandchildren, eight great grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

Written by Emily Velasco

Emily Velasco
(626) 372-0067