Monday, September 12, 2005

The Umpire Analogy

Today, in his confirmation hearing, John Roberts offered his role on the Supreme Court (capitalization used advisedly) would be that of a baseball umpire. He specifically alluded to the principal role of the umpire; calling balls and strikes. He, the umpire, is neither the pitcher nor the batter.

Very clever, John. On closer inspection, you chose badly.

Let's look at what the umpire does. Many of us are not aware of the history of umpiring. Until just a few years ago, there were National League and American League umpires. There are two sets of ground rules, the most apparent of which is the "designated hitter": the American League uses it; the National doesn't. Guess which league's games I'd rather watch.

In the last few years, Major League Baseball (MLB) has been slow to reorganize itself. For way too long, the "commissioner" of MLB has been an owner, Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers. This is akin to the prosecutor serving as the judge, not to tread on the baseball - legal metaphors _tooo_ heavily. My agida for Bud Selig is best left to a sports blog, not here. But what remains is my difficulty with the "umpire" analogy. One of the good things "commissioner" Selig did a very few years ago was to break a long-standing tradition of the umpires union and merge the umpires of the two leagues. A strike and rancorous settlement settled the issue.

Do you know what the biggest issue, at least as perceived by this fan was: There were _two_ different versions of the strike zone. It was long apparent to any careful watcher of the game that each league had it's own idea of a ball or strike. Let me tell you what I think the rules say: a pitched ball, any part of which passes over any part of the home plate, above and including the batters knees and below the armpits is a strike; failing this, the pitch is a ball.

This shouldn't be difficult to interpret. But, over the years it seems, the American league took what should be a vertical box (higher that it was wide) and converted it to a horizontal box (wider than high). As an insight to what has happened, watch an American League game, yet today. And look at those pitches just over the batters belt: you can pick them out easily. The catcher doesn't move his glove in the least. It's still often called a high pitch. Sending umpires to one school is clearing up the cross-league incongruity. But, hey folks, let me tell you a secret: Rookies and 2nd year players are asking the veterans, has this ump come up in our league?

So, let's turn this analogy back on John Roberts: which league did you come up in? The one that views individuals as the arbiter or the one that views institutions as such?

If you have some time on your hands, follow this link to umpire Bill McGowan.

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