“What Umpires Get Wrong” Makes Electronic Strike Calling Sound Good


He called THAT a strike?

I read with acute interest the article from the New York Times called “What Umpires Get Wrong.”  The thrust of the piece is that umpires error calling non-swinging pitches 14% of the time, for a variety of reasons. The authors, Brayden King and Jerry Kim, present a number of explanations for some of the miscalls, but ultimately recognize that as long as humans are running the show, stuff is going to happen.  I say just because there have always been umpires, does not mean that we still need umpires.  Better still, keep the umpires on the field, with all of their theatrics, but if they call the pitch incorrectly, let the buzzer tell the story so the whole stadium hears it.

All of the possible explanations the article presented for consistent patterns of errors, ignored a big one for me: What about the hot dog, the player who is as rude and obnoxious as they come?  He arrives at home plate and greets the umpire with, “Hey, Blue.  When are you going to remember to bring your your glasses to the ballpark?”

The umpire says to himself, I won’t need any glasses to call balls and strikes, whenever you come up to bat.  On the exterior, all he does is smile.  In the article the concluding paragraph opines, “Technologically, Major League Baseball is in a position, thanks to its high-speed camera system, to enforce a completely accurate, uniform strike zone.  The question is whether we, as fans, want our games to be fair and just, or whether we are compelled to watch the games because it mimics the real world, warts and all.”

Jun 26, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief Pitcher Javier Lopez (49) Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

My response is that I watch the game to see the masters at work, pitchers who get paid millions per year to ply their trade.  I want the pitches they throw for strikes to be called strikes and the pitches they throw for balls to be called balls.  I know that a tailing fastball away from the batter, one inch outside the strike-zone can be devilishly difficult to distinguish between a ball thrown one inch inside the strike-zone.

However, unlike the authors of the article, I do not welcome the warts and I do not seek for fodder to keep the conversation going in the staff room.  I can find plenty to prattle on about besides yet another blown call, or trying to figure out why the umpire doesn’t realize that the opposing catcher keeps setting up with his glove six inches outside the strike zone.  The catcher never moves his glove, the ball hits it with a resounding smack, and the batter is called out on a pitch that is ridiculously outside the zone.  And the umpire wonders why everyone is upset.  Forget it!

Therefore, I put forth the proposition that all strikes shall be forever more called strikes, and balls should be called, well, balls.  Why should this  demonstration of precision detract from our enjoyment of the game?  I watch baseball to see the best athletes perform the most extraordinary of feats.  I am tired of seeing umpires make mistakes, for any reason.  Why should we continue to allow human error to contribute to bad calls which result in games being lost-or worse, being won without due merit?

The pitcher throws the ball, the batter gets to swing or not, and the scoreboard indicates whether it is a ball or a strike.  Let’s get rid of the middle man.

Sep 2, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (16) during an at bat against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports