If you look up the word "pontificate" in the dictionary, you might see Alex Sanders' picture next to the definition.
As a former lawyer, legislator, judge and college president, there's nothing Sanders loves more than the sound of his own voice.
Which is why the former president of the College of Charleston entered an essay contest sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on any subject they might find pontificatable. And, of course, he won, along with 70 others.
Therefore, Sanders is en route to Cooperstown, N.Y., where on Wednesday he will present his tribute to the late William S. Stevens, a fellow lawyer who established legal and baseball history with the 1975 publication of an article titled, "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule."
"William Stevens' paper transformed the way we think about baseball and the law," said Sanders, who also is a founder of the Charleston School of Law. "He demonstrated that the Infield Fly Rule, like the common law, developed over time ... just as common law provides legal remedies for new situations."
A famous aside
Although Stevens died in 2008, Sanders contends his work should be memorialized in the Baseball Hall of Fame just as it has been enshrined as a precedent in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is commonly referred to in legal circles as "The Aside."
Sanders' 13-page treatise quotes such notable historic figures as Lewis Grizzard, Vince McMahon and Ted Williams. I can attest that those in the audience will no doubt be entertained and enthralled.
Sanders could pick up a copy of the Charleston phone book, open it at random, start reading and make it sound like a Pat Conroy novel.
In making his comparisons of law and baseball, Sanders relies on humor and history.
"Baseball has a decidedly better record than law," he wrote. "In 127 years, only one major league umpire has been accused of professional dishonesty. The year was 1882, and the umpire was almost surely not guilty."
He also reminds his audience of the connection between life and baseball, noting common expressions such as "out of left field," "right off the bat" and "in the ballpark."
He concludes that baseball and the law are inextricably entwined in our history and that the role of judges and umpires are much the same.
"The strike zone is whatever that day's umpire says it is," Sanders quotes. "So if a hitter is smart, he knows that particular umpire as well as he knows the opposing pitcher. That means the strike zone is no different than a court of law."
Such oratory and insight will surely gain the late Mr. Stevens a proper place in Cooperstown lore.
And if nothing else, it will give Alex Sanders a chance to hear himself talk, which he does exceedingly well.
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