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.