Take me out to the ballgame, sure. But please lose the baseball metaphors on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

John G. Roberts Jr., the man who would be chief justice, led off Monday, when he said that "judges are like umpires" and "it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."

Since then, a fielder's choice of baseball allusions has expanded into a bench-clearing brawl, leaving speakers of plain English to hope for a double-play ball to end the inning.

"You hit a home run yesterday," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) told Roberts on Tuesday. But, Biden added, "the founders never set a strike zone." Biden said questioning Roberts was "like pitching to Ken Griffey" but added, gamely: "Let's play baseball."

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, picked up the ball. "As all of us with any involvement in sports knows, no two umpires or no two referees have the same strike zone or call the same kind of a basketball game," he said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) ruled those balls foul. "Yesterday we were talking about baseball, but today we're talking about dodgeball," he protested.

Surely Cornyn wasn't talking about Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "I'll start out by pitching you something of a softball," Schumer said to Roberts.

And Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) waxed philosophical. "The courtroom is a quiet place, Judge Roberts, where you park your political ideology, and you call the balls and you call the strikes," he said.

The word "umpire" was mentioned at least 30 times as of midday yesterday, not far behind mentions of "abortion" (51).

Roberts, for his part, had moved on -- to tennis. When a senator quizzed him about eminent domain and a recent Supreme Court case, the nominee replied: "That leaves the ball in the court of the legislature."

-- Dana Milbank