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George Will on Umpires as "Baseball's Judicial Branch":

Conservative columnist George Will has written an op ed describing the role of umpires as "baseball's judicial branch." He joins a long list of jurists, including Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who have analogized umpires to judges:

Baseball is . . . the only sport that asks an on-field official to demarcate the most important aspect of the field of play -- the strike zone. Although defined in the rule book, its precise dimensions are determined daily by the home plate umpire.

Umpires are islands of exemption from America's obsessive lawyering: As has been said, three strikes and you're out -- the best lawyer can't help you. But because it is the national pastime of a litigious nation, baseball is the only sport in which a nonplayer is allowed onto the field to argue against rulings.

Umpires are used to having their eyesight questioned -- when someone criticized Bruce Froemming's, he said, "The sun is 93 million miles away, and I can see that" -- but their integrity is unquestioned . . . As umpires say, "If they played by the honor system, they wouldn't need us."

Sport -- strenuous exertion structured and restrained by rules -- replicates the challenges of political freedom. Umpires, baseball's judicial branch, embody what any society always needs and what America, in its current financial disarray, craves -- regulated striving that, by preventing ordered competition from descending into chaos, enables excellence to prevail.

Some of Will's points strike me as stretches. But he is right to focus on the umpires' broad discretionary authority over the strike zone, which is indeed somewhat analogous to judges' broad discretion in exercising the power of judicial review. I drew a similar analogy in this post.

David Welker (www):
This is a really fascinating and well-written op-ed. It is actually mostly about baseball, not politics. Thanks for sharing it.

To the extent that it is about politics, it seems a little bit off:


Umpires, baseball's judicial branch, embody what any society always needs and what America, in its current financial disarray, craves -- regulated striving that, by preventing ordered competition from descending into chaos, enables excellence to prevail.


But of course, it is not primarily the judicial branch that regulates financial markets and prevents chaos.

That tiny quibble aside, excellent article.
4.9.2009 2:22am
wolfefan (mail):
I agree, a very good article. Also like judges and the law, different umpires have different strike zones. What was a strike yesterday may not be today, but might be again tomorrow, depending on who's calling the game.
4.9.2009 6:32am
wolfefan (mail):
I realize too late that the comment above merely repeats Will and Ilya. Sorry! (No wonder I thought it was so intelligent!) Chalk it up to a Nats fan still puzzled over why Stan Kasten WANTS Phillies fans to come down here...
4.9.2009 6:53am
Brett Bellmore:
I suppose it's a fair analogy for judging, because the strike zone in practice is subject to wide discretion, even though the rules in fact define it precisely. And the fans may observe that the umpire isn't accurately applying the rules, but everybody in a position to do anything about it has agreed to permit the abuses anyway. So the fans are reduced to ineffectually and accurately crying that the umpire is a crook, while the offenses go on unabated.

A very good analogy indeed.
4.9.2009 7:11am
J. Aldridge:
Umpires do not get the opportunity to re-define the rule book.
4.9.2009 7:58am
Derrick (mail):
Umpires do not get the opportunity to re-define the rule book.


You've obviously never seen Angel Hernandez or Joe West call balls and strikes.
4.9.2009 8:39am
J. Aldridge:
^^^ What I meant is, umpires do not revise the meaning of the rules that must be followed by all other umpires.
4.9.2009 8:50am
J. Aldridge:
^^^ Or make up new rules......
4.9.2009 8:51am
Houston Lawyer:
I always like the part where the manager comes out and argues with the ump. Especially when he turns his cap around so he can get up close and personsal.

Note the large difference between baseball umpires and soccer referees. At a Dynamos game, I noticed that the referees have to be escorted on and off the field by police escort.
4.9.2009 9:50am
Oren:

What I meant is, umpires do not revise the meaning of the rules that must be followed by all other umpires.

Do any two umpires use the same meaning of the balk rule?
4.9.2009 9:50am
strategichamlet (mail):
How long till umpires no longer call balls and strikes? 5 years? 10? Certainly a lot sooner than when the SCOTUS is replaced by a computer.
4.9.2009 10:06am
glangston (mail):
I submit that in the NBA, "traveling", "steps" or as Chick called it, "the bunny hop in the pea patch" is just as annoying. Carrying the ball too. One NBA player was asked what he thought of LeBron James' "crab dribble" and replied, "it's traveling". He's fooling some people but not the players.
4.9.2009 10:41am
David Drake:
I concur with J. Aldridge--

Umpires may have their own interpretations of the strike zone, the balk rule, whether a ball is fair or foul. But they do not decide in the middle of the game to permit e.g. four outs per inning to one team in the interests of "fairness" or "justice" or "because it appears to us that national norms have changed."
4.9.2009 11:01am
IP Practitioner:
This discussion reminds me of the following:

4.9.2009 11:15am
IP Practitioner:
4.9.2009 11:15am
DangerMouse:
Umpires may have their own interpretations of the strike zone, the balk rule, whether a ball is fair or foul. But they do not decide in the middle of the game to permit e.g. four outs per inning to one team in the interests of "fairness" or "justice" or "because it appears to us that national norms have changed."

That's true. Umpires are better than Judges. Imagine a group of umpires who believed in "Living Baseball", so that if a poor player comes up at bat, he would get 4, 5, 6, or 7 strikes before being out. And "out" is such a penalty. It's obviously at conflict with evolving standards of a decent society.

Umpires create the conditions for fair play. Judges do not.
4.9.2009 11:37am
sputnik (mail):
The umpire makes a bad call, the game has to go on. No reviews. This is the kind of power that Will believes he should have over our discourse.
4.9.2009 11:53am
Guest for now:
The problem with using technology to replace umpires is that it has to account for each player's batting stance and where there body is positioned when the pitch is made. I imagine that isn't easy to do, though I don't doubt it will happen in our lifetime.

Sputnik: it's a baseball column, give it a rest already. And George Will, an ardent opponent of McCain-Feingold, is hardly the guy I'd go after for trying to suppress discourse.
4.9.2009 12:01pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
The failure of umps and refs to enforce the written rules is at least some of why I don't watch much pro sports anymore. One of the reasons, when you see a basketball clip from the 50s, that the old-time players don't look so spectacular is that they really weren't allowed to take three or four steps on the way to the bucket or "dribble" the ball by alternately bouncing it, holding it in their hand for a second or two, then bouncing it again.

One shortcoming of the judicial analogy: when the black-robed political appointees permit constitutional travesties like Social Security, minimum wage laws, bank &car company bailouts etc to continue, one cannot escape the consequences by turning off the TV or changing the channel.
4.9.2009 12:02pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Phyllis Schlafly made this analogy before Roberts, as noted here.
4.9.2009 12:25pm
David Welker (www):
Allan Walstad,

So, as a physicist, I am curious, under what theory exactly would bailouts be unconstitutional? In general, do you feel that any policy that you disagree with is unconstitutional? Is the general methodology employed by physicists to constitutional interpretation to say, "if I don't like the policy it must be unconstitutional," or is this just you?

I sort of wish you would stick to your own field. Because guess what. No one cares what you think, because you have no clue what you are talking about. None.

Somin definitely has a point about when he says a lot of people are ignorant.
4.9.2009 12:39pm
Fedya (www):
The problem with using technology to replace umpires is that it has to account for each player's batting stance and where there body is positioned when the pitch is made. I imagine that isn't easy to do, though I don't doubt it will happen in our lifetime.


If it happens, it's more likely to be out of some sort of "fan-friendly" push. Tennis got the same nonsense with the Hawk-Eye system to appeal calls. It was foisted upon the tennis world thanks to the pretty pictures it produced, despite demonstrable evidence of its innacuracy -- the ball leaves a mark on clay courts, and often the mark left by the ball is different from what the computer guess claims.

Yet, the idiot commentators act as though the pretty picture is infallible. For a more interesting error, see the pretty picture and the out call disagreeing

I'd rather have fallible humans making the calls than computers.
4.9.2009 1:29pm
hmm:
I always thought football had an interesting analogy. The call on the field is like the verdict. You can appeal it (send it up to the booth) but there must be "indisputable evidence" in order to overturn -- just like jury verdicts are subject to a highly deferential standard of review.
4.9.2009 1:40pm
karl m (mail):
In the " relazione al Re" , a defense of the civil process code ( 1940), the fascist Justice Minister rejected the common view of the Judge as a soccer referee, since the judge can not take a hand off approach of justice. The Code introduced inquisitorial powers for civil( private law) judges to allow them to act ex offici without care to the desires of the parts on the trial.
4.9.2009 2:03pm
devoman:
Three baseball umpires are having a beer together; a rookie, a somewhat experienced guy, and a seasoned veteran.

The rookie says, "I call them as they are."

The somewhat experienced guy says, "I call them as I see them."

The seasoned veteran says, "They're nothing until I call them."
4.9.2009 2:08pm
ChrisTS (mail):
devoman:
Three baseball umpires are having a beer together; a rookie, a somewhat experienced guy, and a seasoned veteran.

The rookie says, "I call them as they are."
The somewhat experienced guy says, "I call them as I see them."
The seasoned veteran says, "They're nothing until I call them."


So, we have in order:

A legal positivist.
A legal naturalist.
A legal realist.
4.9.2009 2:24pm
Perseus (mail):
Is the general methodology employed by physicists to constitutional interpretation to say, "if I don't like the policy it must be unconstitutional," or is this just you?

Your methodology appears to amount to little more than if someone doesn't agree with your views on the acceptable approaches to constitutional interpretation, then that person must be ignorant. But even an approach of "if I don't like the policy it must be unconstitutional" is a form of legal realism (i.e. "they're nothing until I call them").
4.9.2009 2:51pm
David Welker (www):

Your methodology appears to amount to little more than if someone doesn't agree with your views on the acceptable approaches to constitutional interpretation, then that person must be ignorant. But even an approach of "if I don't like the policy it must be unconstitutional" is a form of legal realism (i.e. "they're nothing until I call them").


You are right. There are other possible explanation besides ignorance for such lame views. Such as excessive hubris.
4.9.2009 5:20pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Welker asked a good question. It seems that people have a habit of throwing around "Unconsitutional" without making good arguments to support this.

As for the bailout, doesn't Congress have the power of the purse? Is there any Constitutional limit to how Congress can use the money gained from taxes? Or is the idea that Congress can only fund roads if the USPS transports mail along those roads?
4.9.2009 5:31pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Well, he's wrong from the outset:



Baseball is ... the only sport that asks an on-field official to demarcate the most important aspect of the field of play


An umpire is called on to say whether a pitch was inside or outside the strike zone. In the same way, a line judge in tennis needs to decide whether a ball landed inside or outside the line. In tennis, the judgment aspect is even more peculiar, because unlike baseball, the lines are not only defined -- they are actually drawn on. But even so, whether a ball is in or out depends on the call, not on where it lands. If it were otherwise, John McEnroe's career would have been much less fun to follow.
4.9.2009 5:34pm
KeithK (mail):
You could probably get away with a no referee honor system in tennis because the lines are drawn long before you could do so in baseball. Unless we replaced the catcher with a wall and a box, as in stickball.
4.9.2009 5:49pm
bluewater:
A dissimilarity between judges and umpires: Umpires know that they are not the reason people are there, and they exist only to enforce the rules of fair play. And, they make less than the people who are doing the substance of the game. (Some) judges think their work is the substance people come to see and they are the stars of the show. And, they make more money than a lot of attorneys appearing in front of them (sorry John Roberts, but I disagree that they need raises).

Now maybe judges should not preside from the front of the courtroom, maybe they should be off to the side, or in the back. Maybe they should even cover their face to hide their shame ...
4.9.2009 7:04pm
byomtov (mail):
Anyone who thinks umpires make their calls strictly in accordance with the written rules hasn't seen too many double plays.

Pivot men routinely fail to touch second, and runners routinely interfere with the pivot man. In either case, calls are extremely rare.
4.9.2009 7:46pm

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