“As They See ‘Em”

Writer Bruce Weber went to umpire school and has a new book out about it. Sounds good:

The conundrum of umpiring is neatly posed by the peculiar rule of the knee-to-shoulder strike zone, which Mr. Weber calls the sole instance of a playing area that is demarcated only in the minds of officials. “The strike zone isn’t, nor has it ever been, set in stone, or even sand,” he writes. “It’s set in air, a concept, not a thing. It can’t be transported from one ballpark to another, but like the memory of a secret code it has to be formulated by each umpire each time he squats behind the catcher, every game, every pitch.”

One umpire compares the strike zone to a Supreme Court ruling: the language may be clear, but generations will reinterpret it.

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14 years ago

What’s so hard about mid-point between hip and shoulder and soft spot under the knee cap?

Chris H.
14 years ago

themarksmith: exactly.  The fact that there are so many variable strike zones called does not mean that it must be that way.

The problem is that, for example, nobody is telling Jim Casey’s ump, “You’re calling it wrong.  Get it right or you’re fired.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need a technological replacement to call balls and strikes.

And as a pre-emptive strike: this is NOT going to remove the “human element” from the game.  You know what the human element in the game is?  The athletes!  Their performance!  Umpires should never be the “human element.”  There are rules, and they should be enforced correctly and consistently.

Jason @ IIATMS
14 years ago

Chris H., But in your scenario, we’d never have had the joy of Enrico Palazzo calling “strike?”

Adam Kalsey
14 years ago

It’s interesting to note that the strike zone was added to the rules of baseball rather late in the game. The intention of the addition of called strikes was to move the game along. Prior to the 1870s, a batter could stand in the box all day and never swing and the game would drag on.

Even after the modern strike zone was created in 1907, the zone has been changed several times at the professional level to better balance pitching and offense. Over the last 50 years, it’s changed an average of once a decade.

Amateur umpires (those doing things like MSBL, youth, and high school ball) are taught to call a zone appropriate for the level they’re working. No one wants a pro-level zone called for two 13 year old pitchers who can barely get the ball to the plate. The game would be a walk-fest, with everyone but the pitcher and catcher becoming a spectator.

The better the pitchers are at hitting the zone, the tighter the zone gets. And as long as it’s the same zone for each side, neither team has an advantage.

Jim Casey: Let’s take your example to the extreme. If the opposing catcher was set up far enough back that pitches bounced before they reached him, would you be happy sitting in the dugout and seeing those called strikes? Of course not. You’d be howling that the pitch was in the dirt. So to keep a game moving smoothly, the umpire has to call the game according to perception to some extent.

Jim Casey
14 years ago

I agree, and have been in that position occasionally. My pitches were not bouncing, the catcher was catching them down around the ankles, which was the umpire’s reason for calling them balls. In another extreme instance, in one game the home plate umpire announced to both teams that the strike zone would be large, so everyone better come to the plate ready to swing the bats. However, belt high fastballs down the middle were called balls, while sliders that ran 6-12 inches outside were called strikes. Just all part of the maddening fun of playing the game we all love so much. As Jim Bouton said at the end of “Ball Four”, “You spend your whole life holding that baseball, only to find out in the end it was the other way around all along.”

14 years ago

Great discussion of the topic here: http://tinyurl.com/buhaew

My thought is that if the umps can’t (and I don’t think it’s humanly possible) call the strike zone as it is defined, get rid of them.  Catchers only come into the discussion on interference.

The strike zone dictates every aspect of the game. The technology exists, and anything would be better than what goes on now.

When asked to comment about a home plate ump after a particularly brutal showing, Whitey Herzog famously said, “It’s a good thing he only had two choices to make.”

Jim Casey
14 years ago

This is true at every level of the game. I played in the MSBL for several years, primarily pitching, and had to deal with so many strike zone variations it was ridiculous. One game my catcher was inexperienced and a bit bat-shy, so he was setting up a little further back than my regular catcher did. When I came to bat in the 3rd inning, the umpire told me, “Your catcher is costing you strikes on your curveball because of where he’s catching the ball.” Now isn’t the pitch supposed to be called based on where it crosses the plate, not where it’s caught? Even MLB umpires have told me they call the pitches based on where they are caught, not where they cross the plate. I’m not sure if any of them actually read the rule book.