September 13, 2005

About that baseball analogy.

John Roberts gave us little to work with in his nice little seven-minute opening statement, so everyone's talking about the baseball analogy.

One thing is to say that umpires have enough room to maneuver that it really matters who does the umpiring. That's the Democrats' rhetorical move on the metaphor, but it's an exactly correct reminder that it does matter who decides, even when the judges are doing their utmost to be modest and neutral and principled.

Some people think the baseball metaphor was a wonderfully folksy touch that will reach out to ordinary Americans.

You know what my first reaction was? Great, a sports metaphor. The man is accused over and over of not caring about women's rights and the first thing that comes out of him is a sports metaphor. For decades, I have negatively judged men who, speaking to a general audience, fall back on a sports metaphor. It says: I come from the world of men. My reference points are men's things. I will speak in a way that will make men feel welcome and at home, and women can come along if they've taken an interest in the same things.

And you needn't tell me about all the women who care about sports or how important sports are. Sports are exactly as important and sex-related as fashion. And think how you would have felt if John Roberts had built his little homily around a fashion metaphor.


Theis said...

My mother always told me to be careful about tearing a thing down without having something to put in its place. I'll agree with your criticism if you can give us an analogy from the world of fashion that's as apt as the umpire metaphor Roberts pulled out. It's been my observation that John Roberts pays much more attention to the lucidity and art of his writing than he does to the possibility that he could ruffle feathers.

Peter Hoh said...

I roll my eyes at a lot of sports analogies, but I'm prepared to give Roberts a pass on this one. For what it's worth, baseball analogies are much better than football analogies.

Dash said...


In case you missed it, Roberts is a man. Why shouldn't he speak like one? I for one would have been concerned if he had used a fashion metaphor. It would have come off as a calculated move to win over the disgruntled women vote.

And honestly, when have women ever been impressed by men who speak like women?

Ann Althouse said...

Theis: The fabric of the law. The law is a tapestry. The law is (or isn't) a seamless garment ... Must I go on?

Ann Althouse said...

Dash: I don't want him to speak like a woman. Obviously, that would be screwy. I'm asking him to show that he knows when he's speaking to one side and to try to speak to everyone. He wouldn't use metaphors about boarding school and going to Harvard. He'd notice whom he was alienating with that sort of thing.

Ann Althouse said...

I mean Yale. Talking about going to Yale Law School can even alienate people who've gone to Harvard Law School.

Randy said...

Maybe Roberts thought using the baseball analogy would establish his bona fides as a heterosexual ;-)

Ron said...

Perhaps when Dianne Feinstein is the only distaff blowhard in the room a sports analogy is apt? and make no mistake, they are the audience, no one else.

or perhaps the Manolo should be doing the judging of the judge instead of the Leahy, yes?

Mark Daniels said...

Frankly, I thought his homily on the endless horizons of Indiana would incite more eyeball-rolling than the umpire analogy, but I take your point.

Freeman Hunt said...

I liked the baseball analogy, and I have no interest at all in sports. I think that the idea of an umpire is so universally understood in the United States that the sports aspect is a non-issue.

goesh said...

- he has eyes of steel

Meade said...

I'd have preferred a basketball metaphor with a nod to good fashion sense:

Judges are like basketball referees. Refs don't make the rules, they apply them while wearing long pants. The role of a ref and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules and they make sure everyone is properly attired. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a basketball game to see the referee, especially if the referee is wearing plaid pants . . . . And I will remember that it's my job to blow the whistle, not only on flagrant fouls and body checks, but on the wearing of sneakers that clash with the jersey.

Wade Garrett said...

I think that Ann makes a good point, and I refrain from using sports metaphors to the extent I can. Not only do they tend to appeal to men more than women, but they also tend to be hackneyed and cliche. However, I do believe that some sports metaphors, ie "three strikes and you're out," or "slow and steady wins the race" are okay to use, because everybody understands what they mean.

One should never make a metaphor about something as arcane as the infield fly rule, but then that wouldn't make a good metaphor anyway. In general, my main problem with sports metaphors is a stylistic one: they're sloppy writing!

Charlie Martin said...

Roberts must be doing okay if all people can find to complain about is his using a baseball metaphor.

KCFleming said...

Hate to disagree with you here, Ann, but I do.

1. If he had used a fashion metaphor, I wonder what the NYT would make of it, given their innuendoes regarding his effete plaid-panted, pie-baking, man-dating behaviors from years past.

2. My daughter's world has quite a bit of sports in it, as is true for that generation of women. Is your criticsim true any longer, except as a truism when coaching speakers in the 1980s?

3. The "fabric" metaphor doesn't send the message he intended, I think. Remember, any metaphor not completely obvious to dim bulbs like Schumer will be too opaque or easily misjudged. For such nincompoops: umpire = unbiased. Virtually unassailable. Some cliches are rather useful. He's pretty smart, I think.

LizrdGizrd said...

I think his choice of a baseball metaphor over Ann's suggested fashion metaphor is apt. Baseball is an iconically American sport. Fashion is dominated by European whims and designers. His choice helped tie him to the fabric of American life using a metaphor that few would misunderstand.

Joan said...

Didn't one of the senators bring up the baseball/umpire thing before Roberts spoke? I heard part of his statement, and he said something to the effect that "being a judge is like being an umpire," with particular emphasis on "is", as if he were reinforcing a point that someone else had made previously.

Sports metaphors don't bother me, and being bothered by them seems like another personal quirk of Ann's that we can dump into the same file as her distaste for blue cars or cold cooked egg dishes. Ann, like everyone else, is entitled to her opinion, of course, but that doesn't mean that every opinions is rational. I think it's pretty bad to assume that women don't get or are somehow slighted by sports metaphors. Our society is saturated with references to sports. Are women too dim to understand them, or too narrow-minded to want to understand them? Too gender-involved to think that sports metaphors can have any relevance? Women who maintain a complete ignorance of sports do so at their peril.

I agree with Terence: the biggest problem with most sports metaphors is not that they are mysogynistic, but that they are hackneyed. I think Roberts did a good job of making his points without being condescending.

Unknown said...

I did like the baseball metaphor but have always been a fan. More than that, I saw his reference to baseball as about unfettered individualism tempered by law. It's an American game and it shows. We love freedom until it becomes license, and we love heroes, as long as they don't stray too far.

Modern critical theory posits that the realm of law and order is male, and therefore somehow tainted. I don't agree. It's about life in the public realm. We need the law, and an umpire, as a safeguard against each other's or the government's excesses.

He lost me on the Indiana metaphor, though. To me, they're just lonely.

Ann Althouse said...

I agree that everyone can understand the metaphor. (Which is part of why it's a cliche.) I'm just telling you what my instinctive reaction was at the time. I agree baseball is better than football as a metaphor, because it's more about American tradition and less violent/militaristic (see that George Carlin routine comparing the two sports). I agree that it was good for him to go masculine, considering that whole Plaidgate thing. I agree that the metaphor went nicely with that Indiana cornfields stuff and that it is well-crafted to appeal to Senators, who tend to go around spouting cornball things when they are campaigning. And I agree that his core audience is the committee, which has only one woman, so he doesn't really have to appeal to the deeper level of female feelings. Still, I'm just saying what went through my mind when I heard it, and warning everyone about the general overuse of sports metaphors.

Steve Donohue said...

There's actually a pretty funny set of commercials making the same point Prof. Althouse is making, with regular people making football analogies and famous football players running out to tell them why their cliches.

Unknown said...

I personally loathe sports metaphors. And I spend every weekend each fall watching non-stop football coverage, both Saturday and Sunday. I especially hate beisbol metaphors, mostly because I'm a Brewers fan.

I can't really come up with an aesthetically and logically satisfying substitute for the bull puckey that Roberts was pitching. Perhaps a baseball metaphor works as well as anything else.

After all, as Bob Barrenger says in State & Main, "It's the national sport."

Chad Oldfather said...

This seems like a perfectly appropriate place to shamelessly plug my article "The Hidden Ball: A Substantive Critique of Baseball Metaphors in Judicial Opinions," 27 Connecticut L. Rev. 17 (1994). Of course, were I more savvy I'd have it up on ssrn...

Charlie Martin said...

So what have you got against violent and militaristic metaphors?

stoqboy said...

I didn't read his whole statement, but I don't think he mentioned baseball. It could be that he was talking about softball, as much a women's sport as a men's sport.

Sigivald said...

I think the Manolo would be the ideal head of the Senate panel for the inquiries into the prospective Justices.

The Manolo, he is the man of uncommon sense and direct the speech.

NotClauswitz said...

I'm not a big ball-sport fan (I like dirtbikes) but the fabric things strikes me as a Home-Ec metaphor, plus you have the possibility of judges "making law out of whole cloth" - (which a certain faction does seem to want), and then there's the whole "wrapping themselves in the flag" bit - Betsy Ross is right there too. With Designers from Ralph to Tommy to Georgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld fashion isn't the sole pervue of Women - but I'm not sure about a cooking metaphor either because it introduces the French hauteur into the mix. Emeril? I do like the Manolo.

Greg D said...

The big problem I had with his metaphore is that he was far too nice with it.

What he should have said is not that he wouldn't try to "hit , or pitch", but that, unlike the "Justices" the Democrats like, he'd be an honest ref, who call things the way they are, instead of the way he wants them to be.

But that would have been impolite.

Ron said...

sigivald: Since ought eight is far enough away to build a head of steam, why not a Althouse/Manolo ticket? America needs a candidate who will both blog and podcast their campaign! I respect Ann's opinions more than I ever have those of Al Gore or Pat Robertson! Whose finger would you prefer on the button, nutjobs like Perot, weepers like Tom Colborn, moonbats, wacky Christers, or sober but witty Ann Althouse? Manolo could be easing the tensions with the Old Europe through Slingback Diplomacy, and who doesn't want to see RLC cast in the Jane Wyman role?


Peter Hoh said...

Enough with the umpire. I want a judge who's a little more like a bouncer.

nina said...

I know I am late chiming in, but I do think that most of the comments (and uffff, I read them all) missed Ann's point. Or perhaps I am imputing meaning into it when I say that the metaphor may have worked, may have appealed to some (many?) women, may have been apt and still it should not have been there in a short, clearly memorized speach that was calculated to offend no one and score points for the speaker. It may be a small issue, but it at the very least tells me that he couldn't spot the potential problem here. This from a guy who has built his life around wanting this very nomination.

Ken Pierce said...


Doesn't seem to me that they missed the point. Ann has a negative reaction to sports metaphors because she perceives them as intrinsically sexist, since in her generation men talked predominantly in sports terminology and women did not. In doing so she shows her age, and also makes a point that (a) is somewhat petty in the light of the substantive issues that will be discussed (though since this is her blog she is perfectly free to patter on at length about whether she liked his tie or not if she wants to), and (b) is very far from being well established. It is perfectly possible that Roberts knows that some people will have the reaction Ann had, but chose to use his metaphor anyway because there just isn't any other as good. Ann's assumption is that anyone who is aware of the contention that the use of sports metaphors is intrinsically sexist (a common contention some years back, by the way) would not use that metaphor, and frankly I think that's nonsense. She further seems to assume that the use of sports metaphors rather than other metaphors is purely arbitrary because sports metaphors aren't intrinsically superior to others, which is a whopper of an assumption. And that assumption is being challenged by a number of posters who have observed trenchantly that Roberts might have used that metaphor not because he has a penis, but because it was a superlatively good metaphor for his point.

Her use of fashion as an alternative source of metaphor is particularly grotesquely absurd. If Roberts really was talking to a national audience...well, let's see, there were 105,000 people in the stands at the OSU/Texas game this weekend, close to half of whom were women; NASCAR pulls 100,000 people in person to watch practically every race they put on, a significant percentage of whom are women; the Super Bowl is watched by literally hundreds of millions of people on the planet, among whom the odd woman or two can be found.

And how many people -- male, female, gay or straight -- watched the show the last time Prada sent models down the runway?

In short, if you want as many people as possible -- male and female -- to get your point, and you use a fashion metaphor instead of a sports metaphor, that doesn't show that you're admirably non-sexist -- it shows that you're a damn fool.

It can be and has been argued, by the way, that for efficient communication regarding the management of large cooperative groups of people, sports metaphors are intrinsically superior to most others, and I would think it would be particularly easy to show their superiority to fashion metaphors. I am in no position to pass expert judgment on the evidence, but I know that it has been argued that participation in sports does, in fact, give former athletes a measurable advantage in the business world because of the prevalence of sports metaphors in that world -- but only if the former athlete participated in a team sport. Tennis players gain practically no advantage from their tennis experience (in terms of communication) because the business world uses tennis language rarely; football and baseball players gain the most because football and baseball metaphors are used constantly. It is no coincidence (the argument runs) that football metaphors are used the most, because football is the sport that requires the highest degree of communication and coordination between persons of highly distinct skill sets slotted into extremely specialized roles, and thus is the sport most directly analogous to large companies: if you were going to pick somebody to manage a business with 400 employees, would you take Nick Bollettieri (famous tennis coach who shaped Andre Agassi's game) or Bill Belichick (coach of the New England Patriots)?

Anyone, male or female, with extensive experience in team sports is naturally going to gravitate toward the use of sports metaphors in business simply because they are highly apt. Men used to be disproportionately advantaged because women had practically no experience with team sports; but that is an artefact of cultural history that grows less applicable daily. The predominance of sports metaphors in business exists not because business is run primarily by men, but because sports metaphors are intrinsically apt for capitalistic business endeavors.

Ann's objection appears to be that the use of sports metaphors is (a) arbitrary and (b) used so much only because men run things. In fact sports metaphors are used because, in business and many other endeavors, they are peculiarly apt; and they are used extensively by people who have been heavily involved in team sports whether those former athletes are male or female, precisely because they are so apt.

Oh, and there's also the objection that the sports metaphors are cliched. But sports metaphors are useful for shorthand communication precisely because they are cliched and therefore everybody knows exactly what they are intended to mean (including the emotional connotations they are supposed to have), without ambiguity. Now Anne is a teacher and therefore habitually wants to stimulate thought, and if you are trying to stir up independent thought in students, or if you are trying to write literature, then you want to avoid cliches. But if you are trying to make sure that people get your point quickly and clearly, then the more cliched -- that is, standardized -- your metaphor is, the more efficiently it communicates your point. It's practically impossible to miss Roberts's point about the baseball umpire precisely because he's using a metaphor whose use is thoroughly well established (Biden's attempt to wrench it into a different meaning was a truly comical enterprise precisely because the cliched nature of the metaphor left too little ambiguity for Biden to exploit). Roberts was not trying to write a poem, and he was not trying to inspire the Senators to new heights of creative insight. He was just getting a point across, as simply and succinctly as possible. And I would like to see anybody come with an alternative metaphor that would serve his purpose any better than the one he chose.

Anne is perfectly free to have her little pet peeve with her little irrational instinctive reaction. But she seemed to think her pet peeve had rational justification behind it, and thus seemed surprised that Roberts didn't behave as though every woman in America has the same emotional tic that Anne has, since Sports Metaphors Are For The Men. Which is, it seems to me, rather a charmingly antique -- and of course sexist -- attitude for Anne to have. And that is why my favorite comment comes from the 24-year-old daughter: "Just how old is Dr. Althouse?"

Ken Pierce said...


Sorry, just one other point: nobody in his or her right mind sets out to put together a six-minute speech that "offends no one," because in a country of a couple hundred million people anything you say is going to offend somebody, including, "God bless America." If Roberts decided, "Well, if I have to offend somebody then let's let it be the people who find sports metaphors intrinsically offensive," I'd say he's doing a pretty good job of limiting the number of people he offends, and making sure the people who are offended are being unreasonable about it. If his choice of metaphor tells you that he "couldn't spot the potential problem" then it tells you more than it tells me -- I would be perfectly aware of the potential problem myself, having heard this kind of complaint before from the Princeton Women's Center, but I would use the metaphor anyway because the potential problem is miniscule and not worth sacrificing the effectiveness of the metaphor.

Of course you might think I'm a sexist jackass, too. For all I know you'd be right.

Anyway, it might be that you and Ann simply disagree with him about how important you think it is to avoid "sexist" sports language, or whether the use of sports language by men is really sexist at all. If Robers had quoted Shakespeare, we might have heard Al Sharpton saying that it was a reflection of Roberts's "unconscious racism;" in the same way you and Anne seem to be accusing Roberts of unconscious sexism. And if that's the case, then I'd say the weight of the comments is running heavily toward saying that he's got a way more sensible view of it than you and Ann do.

nina said...

Ken: The gentleman doth protest too much. And speaking of being oblivious to the potential to offend, I noted that you jumped between calling the author of this blog Anne and Ann. It's Ann.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Nina. And Ken, you expect me to read a very long comment, but from the beginning of the comment it's clear that you didn't read my post competently. I simply didn't say what you think I said. So all that work of yours for nothing. Or did you enjoy repeatedly needling me about my age? Think that seems hostile to women? And dragging in your daughter to prove your point? Do you know how much women over the years have laughed at men who use that rhetorical move in respose to a feminist argument? (Example of a laughed-at line: "I'm not a sexist! My wife tells me I'm not!")

And to the commenters who came up with the accusation that I don't seem to like men? Well, that's a hoary old response to anything feminist. You should be embarrassed to have come up with what is basically the old notion that feminists must be lesbians.

Really! And all that coming from commenters who mostly didn't read the post right. If this were a reading passage on the LSAT, you'd lose a lot of points here.

Alexandra said...


I have commented extensively on your post on my blog under 'Who is 'Stare Decisis'and What does Roberts think of her?'.

I always think it's a little rude to ramble on for paragraphs on end on someone else's blog.(No offense Ken)

Also, you don't have a trackback no. so this is the only way to let you know...HOW WHOLEHEARTEDLY I AGREE WITH YOU.

Ken Pierce said...


And dragging in your daughter to prove your point?

Not my daughter; that was an allusion to a previous post. I would observe that the post in question seems to have been written by a woman rather than by a "man using that rhetorical move," except that then I'd be opening myself right back up to the same accusation. ;-)

Ken, you expect me to read a very long comment...

I didn't expect you to read the comment, actually; I was talking to Nina, which is why I addressed her by name. Not that I mind your reading it, of course. And I do apologize very sincerely and humbly for the length; I wrote it at one go and had no idea how long it was until I saw it posted.

Or did you enjoy repeatedly needling me about my age? Think that seems hostile to women?

I don't mind your age. Nothing wrong with it. No "needling" was intended because I do not perceive age as an intrinsically negative characteristic. It happens to be relevant in this case simply because your emotional reaction is a dated one, in that societal changes have rendered younger women significantly less likely to share your reaction. Do you consider your age an intrinsic liability? If so, I very sincerely regret referring to it.

At any rate, even assuming I had intended malice on grounds of your age, and had done so out of general hostility to a whole class of people instead of hostility to your individual point or person, how would that show hostility to women? Wouldn't it show hostility toward the aged? "Think that shows hostility to women?" seems like a complete non sequitur to me; so, um, I guess my answer is, "No."

How, in fact, did I show "hostility" toward women, other than in disagreeing with two specific women about their negative interpretation of somebody else's remarks? It didn't occur to me, for example, to suspect you of being hostile to Judge Roberts; "critical of" and "hostile to" simply don't seem synonymous to me.

At any rate, I neither felt nor intended to express hostility.

from the beginning of the comment it's clear that you didn't read my post competently...and all that coming from commenters who mostly didn't read the post right.

If the majority of your readers don't get your point -- and I think the majority of your readers are interpreting your point more or less the way I am -- then perhaps the lack of competency in communication does not reside entirely in the readers. ;-) After all, wouldn't you argue that your rather unkind misinterpretation of my own intent, motivation and attitudes is due not to misandry on your part, but to my being a bad writer?

Ken Pierce said...

Alexandra, don't worry, I'm practically impossible to offend, especially when criticism is (as yours was) eminently justified.

Ken Pierce said...


"The metaphor of a judge as the bouncer in a stripper bar...would have the added advantage of offending no one." -- Clearly you didn't grow up among Baptists... ;-)