The Supreme Court imitates the World Series.

Media criticism.
Sept. 13 2005 6:44 PM

How the Court Imitates the World Series

John Roberts' winning baseball analogy.

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The toughest scrutiny that umpires and judges face comes during their stints in the minors and the lower circuits, where you're only as good as your worst decision: Botch a call there and you'll never get called up to the show. That's the bad news. The good news is once you reach the top, it's almost impossible to get fired. For example, many lawyers—even pro-choice lawyers—believe Roe v. Wade was a poor decision. Was anybody in that majority ever shown the door? No. At least once every three or four games, an ump suffers a Roe v. Wade moment. Such miscues didn't disturb Kaiser, who writes in his book, "When I blew a call I accepted responsibility for it and then forgot all about it. It wasn't a life-or-death issue with me. What were they going to do, kill me?"

The justices know that the less the public sees of them, the more magisterial and powerful they become, so they ban photos of and broadcasts from their court. * One imagines that if major league umpires had it to do all over again, they would have prohibited radio, television, and especially the instant replay, which destroys their claims to omniscience.

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Other maxims collected by Kaiser that apply to both court and field: "The fewer calls you make the less chance you have to get in trouble," he writes in Planet of the Umps. Bemoaning the monotony of his profession, Kaiser confesses, "If all of life was like umpiring third base, the manufacturer of Prozac would be out of business."

If confirmed as chief justice, Roberts will find himself behind the plate, leading his crew through a grueling October-April season. We'll know he was serious about his baseball analogy if he arrives at his first oral arguments without Chief Justice William Rehnquist's gold-slashed robe and wears, instead, a chest protector, shin guards, and mask. He'll need them.

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If the skills flexed on the Supreme Court don't serve you on the diamond, what is Justice John Paul Stevens doing at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night throwing out the first pitch of the Cub-Reds game? I'd like to thank the Troy Aikman Memorial Sports Library (Bryan Curtis, proprietor) for its guidance. Send your best umpire-justice stories to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Correction Sept. 14, 2005: The original version of this article mistakenly stated that the Supreme Court bans audio recordings of its procedings. The court itself has recorded oral arguments since 1955 but bans observers from recording. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.