November 5, 2005

"Baseball's the perfect sport for nerds."

That's why Washington types keep talking about it:
First there was John G. Roberts Jr., talking his way to confirmation as chief justice of the United States with the insight that "judges are like umpires."

Then there was Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case, explaining last week's indictment of the vice president's chief of staff by asserting that the aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., had, in baseball terms, thrown sand in the umpire's eyes.

And finally, on Monday, there was the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., a Philadelphia Phillies fan (short for "fanatic") who told the world that his ambition as a young man had been to become baseball commissioner.

Why are so many Washington figures, including a long list of Supreme Court justices, so devoted to the game? Easy, said Carter G. Phillips, a Washington lawyer and an old softball teammate of Judge Alito: "Baseball's the perfect sport for nerds."
Aw, then I guess I shouldn't be so mean about sports metaphors as long as it's a baseball metaphor. Here's my (probably nerdy) idea for an SNL skit about a Supreme Court nomination hearing: the nominee, looking all John Robertsy, offers up his theory of the role of the judge, but instead of a baseball metaphor goes with the wrong sport -- sumo wrestling, perhaps.


Mark Daniels said...

Or, maybe that Olympic gymnastics event where people run around with those batons and streamers.

Confession: Baseball is my favorite sport and yes, I am a nerd, I guess. The appeal of baseball to nerds, I think, is that no sport seems to be more quantifiable. (Which also makes it especially appealing to males, if much of the research on the differences between males and females is to be believed.)

Mark Daniels

Steve Lewis said...

Judging is like synchronized swimming.

Gordon Freece said...

Here's a good one.

Ron said...

Yes, but baseball also attracts literary types like flies! Soppy prose, seen-through-rose-colored-glasses cliched nostalgia for someones damn childhood favorites, baseball is full of that style of writing...ugh!

Peter Hoh said...

I need to get new glasses. At first glance, this line

"judges are like umpires."

looked to me as

"judges are like vampires."

Ann, loved the idea for a SNL skit -- my own idea for an "out of place" sports skit is to have the Nobel Prizes covered by the Fox Football guys.

Lonesome Payne said...

Look, I'm a nerd. Let's get that out of the way right now. And baseball is the perfect sport for me, granted. But I ask you: does that mean baseball is the perfect sport for nerds in general? Frankly, it probably does. Let's see, where was I headed with this. Oh: in reponse to the accusation that baseball attracts literary types, all I can say is, baseball is the complete summation of the American soul, and reveals essential manhood no less than the frontier and the wild open places that still define the essence of our Civilization; and yes, it grants us every Spring, with every opening pitch, an expanse commensurate with our capacity for Wonder. Okay?

Go White Sox.

HaloJonesFan said...

P. Froward: Interesting link. Other posts at that blog: "Which Spice Girl would you eat first?"

Jacob said...

How can you have an article about baseball and the supreme court and not mention Flood v Kuhn?

Lonesome Payne said...

Curt Flood was a hero: leading the exploited players toward freedom and all. Yet skyrocketing player salaries following "deregulation" were one cause of the out of control money situation in pro sports. In fact, it's even true that players are the ones who end up with most of the excess revenue, not the owners. Owners only recoup when they sell to the next sucker. I'm pretty sure that's true because it seems like it to me, AND because I read a book about it one time. An entire book.

Unintended consequences. They're everywhere!

P_J said...

"Baseball's the perfect sport for nerds."

Exhibit A: George Will

I rest my case.

(Although I do admit to being somewhat nerdy myself)

Wade Garrett said...

George F. Will is a great example!

Other prominent nerds who have played or written about baseball: former President George H.W. Bush, Stephen King, George Plimpton, Stephen Jay Gould, former Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti, former Fed Chair Paul Voekler, Ken Burns, Mario Cuomo, director John Sayles, New Yorker editor Roger Angell, New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent and historian Donald Kagan.

PatCA said...

I dunno, Bill Murray is super Cool, and Bart Giamatti was an eloquent writer, certainly not a nerd!

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone."

XWL said...

Using a sumo metaphor might be a violation of the establishment clause (that is if you consider the use of religious metaphors to explain court cases a bad idea) given that the sport is steeped in Shinto rite and ritual.

From the unshorn hair of the competitors to the rice ceremony before the match to the blessing by a priest of the ring to the purification with salt by the highest ranking competitor at the beginning of the basho, even to the tying of the mawashi (that's the funny little diaper to most people) every aspect of the sport is ritualized and done as a rite of the Shinto faith, and yokuzuna (grand champion, less than 70 have been so named in the past 1300 years, and now there are two non-japanese with that title currently competing) are considered high priest within shinto.

With that out of the way, I vote chess as the ultimate nerd sport, closely followed by robot combat, and pocketless billiards (playing 3 ball pocketless billards (aka carombol) requires extensive use of geometry and understanding of application of vectors, a math nerds dream sport really).

(Chess lends itself readily to metaphor, robot combat might be a little more difficult to construct analogies from, and billiards is hard to talk of in the abstract)

The funny thing about the use of baseball metaphors by these Ivy League men is that they assume that by using baseball metaphors they are explaining themselves better to the masses, but the masses have long since stopped taking baseball seriously enough to follow the boring metaphors spun from a boring sport (Southpark illustrated that best with their baseball themed episode).

If they really want to connect to the masses they should use porn, video game, or dating metaphors.

Cousin Don said...


When it comes to the Phils, it's definitely phanatics.

Mainly, because of this guy, a Hall of Fame mascot

Bruce Hayden said...

Maybe it was only having a minor league team when growing up, or sitting the bench when playing in little league, but I find it the stupidest sport ever invented. To me, it is very simple. Because there is no salary cap, the Yankees are going to be competitive almost every year. Any teams that beat them in the long run are going to do it on plain luck, and won't be able to repeat that much, because the Yankees will steal their best players through higher salaries.

Lonesome Payne said...

Bruce -

You're right, but that's not the game you're calling stupid, that's the economic structure. It all boils down to a decision made many decades ago by the owners: no sharing of local broadcast revenue. In baseball, most broadcast revenue is local. In football, most is national. So revenue sharing is easy to justify and to calculate in football.

One thing that is interesting, by the way, is that the game itself right now - in tandem with a crackdown on steroid use (at least partly real) - is evolving away from a state where the most valuable players are easily identifiable, at least in terms of scoring runs. In pitching, it's still easy to spend and get the best pitchers based on past performance. But it's becoming more possible to spend less and get a team that scores a lot of runs, relatively. The White Sox are not a big budget team.

Still, your basic point is true and succinct: it will always be possible for the Yankees to spend money and almost guarantee a post-season appearance.