The Philadelphia Phillies have emerged as an unlikely America’s team during these baseball playoffs: the scrappy wild card going toe-to-toe with the Houston Astros, a vile aggregation of unabashed cheaters and garden-variety shitheads that in a just society would have been disbanded years ago. Yes, Game 4 of the World Series was kind of a letdown, as four Astros pitchers combined to no-hit the Phillies on Wednesday in front of a suddenly-bummed-out Philadelphia home crowd. Even so, the series is knotted at two games apiece, meaning the Phillies are a mere 18 innings of good baseball away from plunging the Astros into the depths of hell and stretching the city of Philadelphia’s telephone pole grease supply to its limits.
Few people would be happier with this result than Justice Samuel Alito, a man whose passion for the Phillies runs so deep that he, as a federal appeals court judge and 43-year-old adult man, spent a week cosplaying as a professional baseball player at (I am not making this up) Phillies Phantasy Camp in 1994. Here he is on a souvenir trading card, bat over the shoulder, staring off into middle distance looking like a reactionary Bret Boone.
It brings us no pleasure to share with you this novelty baseball card from Sam Alito’s trip to the annual Phillies (again, we are so sorry, just reporting facts) Phantasy Camp in 1994 pic.twitter.com/Bxz7x2bnyo
— Balls & Strikes (@ballsstrikes) May 29, 2022
A 2014 profile of Alito, who grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, describes the experience as an “aging baseball junkie’s nirvana”: a week of instruction and drills led by former Phillies players, many of whom attendees grew up watching on TV. Things went as you’d probably expect for a gaggle of middle-aged dudes running wind sprints in polyester pajamas: “By the end of the week everybody had pulled their hamstrings,” Alito said. “The locker room smelled overwhelmingly of Bengay. Nobody could run. Everybody was hobbling.”
The scouting report on Alito was not always so grim. As a young lawyer, he was a “powerful hitter and pretty good first baseman” in D.C. softball leagues, according to Carter Phillips, a frequent Supreme Court lawyer and former Alito teammate who casually revealed to a New York Times reporter (???) in 2005 that he displays an Alito baseball card on his desk. As a college student, Alito even aspired to become the commissioner of Major League Baseball one day, a revelation that at last provides a definitive answer to the question, “Who would be a worse commissioner of Major League Baseball than Rob Manfred?”
By his own admission, Alito couldn’t hit for shit by the time he showed up at Phantasy Camp in the mid-1990s, but was proud to have at least made contact during the end-of-the-week scrimmage against the retired pros. “All I wanted to do was put the ball in play, so I started to swing before he even released the pitch,” he said. “I managed to get a ground ball. It was a moral victory.” Here is our guy sitting for his official camp photo, the telltale crumpled pair of standard-issue khakis stuffed in the locker behind him.
Alito’s ascendance to the Supreme Court in 2006 opened up a whole new world of baseball-adjacent novelty experiences. A few months after his confirmation, Alito was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Phillies game; the Wall Street Journal reported it as a strike. The Phillie Phanatic also made a surprise appearance at his Supreme Court welcome dinner, a gesture apparently organized by Stephen Breyer. In this interview, Alito speaks fondly about a cherished photo of the Phanatic being hugged by Clarence Thomas, an indignity that I can only hope earned a sheepish apology and hazard pay for whomever had to wear the giant furry green suit that night.
2022 has been a banner year for Alito, who already had the privilege of writing the Supreme Court opinion that fulfilled his lifelong dream of overturning Roe v. Wade. Now, just four months removed from taking away the civil rights of millions of people, there exists a real possibility that he could get to watch his favorite team achieve baseball immortality, too.
Obviously I am not telling you to root for the Astros in this World Series, because I do not believe in encouraging anyone to do wicked, depraved things. I am simply saying that if disaster strikes and the Phillies blow this thing and the World Series ends with José Altuve howling joyously at the sky while clutching his jersey tightly to his chest, take solace in the fact that at least one bad guy will feel sad about it.
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