O’Connor to Retire; Shift in Crew Officiating Predicted
Just four days after the untimely injury and withdrawl of nominee H. E. Miers from the playing field, Baseball Commissioner George W. Bush has nominated major league umpire Samuel Alito Jr. to replace the retiring Sandy D. O’Connor for the coveted post of World Series Umpire.
Known informally by players and colleagues alike as “The Judge” for his serious demeanor and moderately nerdy affect, Mr. Alito is widely respected as an extremely knowledgeable but highly conservative official in the ‘traditionalist’ vein of post season officiating, and has been known to privately disdain the epithet “Blue” as both inappropriately colloquial and suggestive of favoritism.
Sandy “Swing Vote” O’Connor, whom Alito would replace, is generally regarded as a more moderate official, whose record has demonstrated nearly equal proclivity for calling fair balls as for foul. O’Connor has served as the decisive voice on a vast number of really close calls throughout her distinguished career as a World Series official.
In accepting the resignation, Commissioner Bush called O’Conner “a discerning and conscientious official and an umpire of complete integrity."
In response, O’Connor would say only “I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.”
In nominating Mr. Alito, Commissioner Bush appears to be fulfilling a promise to nominate candidates in the traditionalist mold of umpires Scalia and Thomas, both of American League training, and generally regarded as the most churlish officials in the game.
“I will appoint strict constructionists in the mold of Scalia and Thomas,” said Bush during a 1999 town hall pep rally with a small group of enthusiastic American League fans who had each signed a loyalty oath.
Mr. Bush has defined a strict constructionist as an umpire who "doesn't use the opportunity of the World Series to officiate from from the bench." Bench warmers and baseball scholars alike have found this statement to be essentially impenetrable, but it has earned popularity with American League play-by-play announcers, who appear to find impenetrability to be a professional asset.
The sharp-tongued Scalia, however, does not regard himself as a strict constructionist, as Commissioner Bush does. Scalia is perhaps more accurately characterized as the league’s most prominent and outspoken advocate of ‘originalism’ in World Series officiating. This controversial theory holds that umpires are responsible for adhering strictly to the exact written text of the Official Rules of Baseball. The meaning of that text, further, must be understood exclusively in light of the original framer’s intent in writing the Rules, which were first set forth by Alexander Cartwright in 1845. Other considerations, such as the prevailing climate, declining attendance, or any form of contemporaneous debate about salary caps must not be considered.
In summarizing his own views on originalist officiating, Scalia quips “I just call ‘em like they saw ‘em.”
Reactions to the Nomination
Mr. Alito’s nomination has been decried by a broad spectrum of National League officials, who fear that Alito’s confirmation will shift the delicate balance of post-season officiating, and overturn decades of progress in extending the playoffs, labor relations, and equal access for minority groups, women, and switch hitters. When asked about Commissioner Bush’s World Series crew pledge, National League President Harry Reid declined to comment at length, saying only “It’s just so Bush league.”
Mr. Altio’s nomination has also fueled considerable controversy among National League players, who characterize his officiating as not only unpopular with the Boys of Summer, but unfailingly deferential to team owners. They note, further, that several of his most important calls have been subsequently overturned on instant replay.
Among National League fans, Mr. Alito’s association with strict constructionism has earned him the pejorative portmanteau “Scalito.”
Unsurprisingly, American League officials are thrilled with the Alito nomination. Together with the recent ascendency of the American League’s John Roberts to the post of World Series Home Plate Umpire, The forthcoming Alito confirmation will cement American League experience as the dominant pedigree on the crew. Orrin Hatch, a prominent American League spokesperson, characterizes Mr. Alito as "a brilliant official with unquestioned integrity. He's the kind of umpire that all of us want -- someone committed to applying the rules impartially rather than officiating from the bench."
Former American League umpire Jeff Sessions offers an enthusiastic character reference, describing Alito as “delightful,” adding “He understands what he believes, but he’s easy to talk with.” Sessions was himself nominated in 1986 to become a major league umpire, but was rejected after several players claimed he had made racially insensitive statements. Mr. Sessions now serves with some of the same officials that voted against his nomination.
“It is abundantly clear,” says Mr. Sessions, “that Mr. Alito just calls ‘em like he sees ‘em.”
Any umpire with 15 years of major league experience will have made numerous controversial calls, and Mr. Alito is no exception. His most controversial ruling came during a now infamous 1991 argument between members of Planned Proprietorship and the mighty Casey, which prompted Mr. Alito to declare that managers seeking to trade players in the off-season should be required to inform their owners first. Alito’s opinion notwithstanding, the mighty Casey eventually struck out, prompting team owners to declare that, contrary to popular opinion, there was not, in fact, any joy in Mudville.
Umpire Alito has also opined in some detail about the ‘Unitary’ theory of team ownership. In brief, this theory holds that during extraordinary periods of competition, such as the post-season playoffs and the World Series, team owners have the inherent right to disregard the Official Rules of Baseball if they deem it necessary to protect the sanctity and good name of the game. Commissioner Bush has implicitly subscribed to this theory in defending, among other things, his use of warrantless home team surveillance.
Commissioner Bush makes his case simply. “I can’t call ‘em if I can’t see ‘em.”
Mr. Alito is privately thought to favor a narrower, deeper playing field, so as to encourage smaller teams, fewer home runs, and larger stadium space for ticket sales and concessions. National League officials cite this as evidence of corporate favoritism over player’s rights, and not in the best interests of Baseball. American league officials reply that, statistically, most batters are right-handed pull hitters. The disproportionate expanse of right field, therefore, is little more than an equal opportunity artifact, and constitutes a clear case of reverse discrimination.
Switch-hitters claim that the elimination of right field is little more than a subterranean effort to disenfranchise players who bat both ways, and not in the best interests of the national pastime. National League officials reply only that in their view, the resulting stadiums would be much more intelligently designed.
In the final analysis, officials of both leagues concur that Alito generally “calls ‘em like he sees ‘em.” National league officials hasten to add, however, that his vision would benefit immensely from surgical correction.
Edward Kennedy, a senior National League official, put it this way. “Here’s the problem. It’s not how he calls ’em. It’s how he see’s ‘em.”