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Three strikes and you’re out

Nov 9, 2012, 7:41 AM EDT

You're out

Starting in the mid-90s, states started adopting habitual offender laws which put criminals who have been convicted of multiple felonies away for life. You probably know such laws by their popular name: “three strikes and you’re out” laws.

Gideon Cohn-Postar wonders took a few moments to stop and think about how random it is that someone’s fate and freedom can be dictated by a baseball rule:

What if, like balls, the number of strikes had varied a bit in the late 1800s? The fact that balls were so variable suggests that it was entirely possible that in slightly different circumstances, four strikes could have meant you’re out … the only reason four and three seem “natural” is because they are what we have grown accustomed to … The almost certainly rhetorical question I have struggled with the most however, is whether the only reason we have Three Strikes Laws at all, and the debate, misery, and justice they imply, is because of an arbitrary rule in what was once a children’s game.

It makes one reflect, as Cohn-Postar does with a series of rhetorical questions, upon baseball’s place in the national psyche. About how weird it is, when you really think about it, that lawmakers could so easily adopt a baseball analogy for matters of such extreme importance.

It makes me wonder what the justice system would look like if baseball had not shaped so much of the culture and the language. Would we have “six fouls and you’re out” if basketball was as big a deal?  Should football’s popularity mean that “four downs and you punt?” makes more sense, culturally speaking?

My word, can you imagine what it would be like if one broke the law in a world where bowling was the national pastime? That would be chilling indeed.

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