One of Major League Baseball’s most endearing quirks is the ceremonial first pitch: Before a game begins, a retired player, local car dealership owner, or former executive branch official credibly accused of perpetrating war crimes takes the mound in dress shoes and an oversized jersey and attempts to lob a baseball in the general direction of home plate. More often than not, this goes poorly: For my money, the funniest-ever celebrity first pitch involved 50 Cent nearly killing a photographer who was situated a good 15-20 feet from his target, although if you prefer Carly Rae Jepsen spiking the ball directly on the grass in front of her, I will not argue the point too strenuously.
Supreme Court justices, too, have a lengthy history of participating in this tradition. In 1910, William Howard Taft became the first-ever U.S. president to throw a first pitch for the Washington Senators on Opening Day, although he did so from the comfort of his seat instead of the mound. Taft would go on to become chief justice in 1921.
Alas, Balls & Strikes does not track Supreme Court first pitches in our data, which, given our name, is a pretty egregious oversight. Nevertheless, the Getty Images and AP Photos libraries are treasure troves of pictures of elderly jurists wearing different sets of pajamas than they typically wear to the office. John Paul Stevens, who grew up in Chicago and attended the 1932 Cubs-Yankees World Series game in which Babe Ruth allegedly called his shot, threw out the first pitch before a 2005 Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Alas, no footage exists on YouTube, but based purely on the determination etched on his face, I am going to go ahead and say this was a 102 MPH fastball down the fucking middle.
The following year, Stephen Breyer accompanied his three-year-old granddaughter to help her throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. It does not appear that Breyer donned the requisite novelty jersey for his supporting role, but the pleated khakis suggest that, if called upon, he would have had plenty of room for a full wind-up.
The Court’s two most prolific first pitch enthusiasts, however, sit at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Shortly after her confirmation in 2009, Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor threw out the first pitch at a Yankees-Red Sox game. Perhaps aware that 60 feet, 6 inches* is a long way to throw a baseball for someone who does not do so for a living, Sotomayor wisely set up well in front of the mound. The hanging curve she delivered was a bit off the plate, but did not put any onlookers in mortal danger, which is more than 50 Cent can say.
*Thanks to alert reader Pete Martin for noting that 90 feet is not the correct distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. In my defense, my favorite baseball team hasn’t won a division title since the Bush administration.
Sotomayor repeated this performance at a Cubs-Yankees game in 2011, and at a Nationals game in 2019, when the team would go on to win the World Series. Again, she successfully executed the “shorten the field” veteran move; again, she threw a strike or close to it.
Samuel Alito has also suited up for three different teams: In 2006 for the Philadelphia Phillies, in 2007 for the Tampa Bay Rays, and in 2013 for the Texas Rangers. Alito, a New Jersey native and lifelong Phillies fan who once attended adult baseball player cosplay camp as an honest-to-God federal judge, also took the time to pose for a photograph with the Phillie Phanatic, whose whimsical fuzzy green mask muffled what I can only assume was the anguished screams of the person inside.
Among the more notable omissions: John Roberts, although I suppose he identifies more with umpires than players; Elena Kagan, a Mets fan and occasional softball player whose batting technique earned lukewarm reviews from MLB players asked about it in 2010; and Potter Stewart, whose passion for the Cincinnati Reds ran so deep that in 1973, when passing a note to his colleagues with the breaking news that Vice President Spiro Agnew had just resigned in the wake of a tax evasion scandal, Stewart added the score of an in-progress playoff matchup between the Mets and the Reds.
Given Brett Kavanaugh’s well-documented and expensive Nats fandom—here he is in July 2018 at the MLB All-Star Game, which was held in Washington—I was also a little surprised to find no evidence that he’s ever thrown out a ceremonial first pitch. I assume that this is because when PR staffers brainstorm local luminaries to invite for a feel-good pregame appearance, they try to avoid associating themselves with disgraced social pariahs whom fans would be booing lustily before they made it past the on-deck circle.