Why Not Allow Umpires To Be Right 100% of the Time?

Major League Baseball is precise; it is a game measured in inches, if not millimeters. Baseball is all about exactness. The ball is fair or the ball is foul; it is over the fence or it is off the wall. The runner is safe or he is out, and finally, he scores or he does not. There is no blurring nor blending of these principles, and nothing is left to chance. It says so in the baseball manual, page 12, paragraph four, subsection C.

Why then, pray tell, is calling balls and strikes left up to the highly questionable eyes of umpires? We know what catchers are paid to do: frame pitches. Umpires must determine whether a ball traveling at 98 miles an hour, with movement, catches the black? Two or three hundred times per game? Umpires fight an uphill battle.

Phil Cuzzi, Photo by Keith Allison

Umpire Phil Cuzzi’s pitiful performance is a primary reason for the use of electronic balls and strikes. Photo by Keith Allison

It’s challenging enough to have to gauge trajectory, speed and movement, with an invisible box, let alone to have to contend with a huge catcher’s mitt, which has got to get in the way. The whole shebang is a setup for failure, and so we get to see this failure over and over again, often enough being the sole reason why one team or the other, wins or loses a game.

Check it out. Practically every baseball game ever broadcast begins by having Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper go over game-time weather conditions and starting lineups. They’ll “toe the rubber” and tell us all about the pitchers, and then they’ll go into the defensive positions.

After listing the four who are umping the game, Kruk will go into the scouting report for the guy who is scheduled to be behind the plate. Kruk will tell us in all sincerity, what this particular umpire’s strike zone is. The funny thing is, this report has become such a part of the game, we no longer question it.

The reality is, however, this is a pathetic joke. We find that Umpire Joe starts off with a wide zone but tightens it as the game goes along. HUH? We find out the this umpire will not call a high strike to save his life, whereas this one is purely a pitcher’s ump.

It’s a travesty is what it is. Why should every umpire have his own strike zone and why should anyone have to keep track? Why should this hugely important component of the game be left up to chance? I mean, anymore?

Now that the technology is there, why should this human element be allowed to continue to determine the outcome of games, when it would be so easy to make it right? I’m not talking about sitting the ump down-that would be ludicrous.

No, the umpire assumes his usual place, his body does all of the right motions and his personality is not altered in any way, and yet every single call could be “picture perfect.” All that would have to be done, is have the ump wired for sound, as it were, so that the information that appears on our screen, in the form of the batter’s box and shows us the placement of the pitch-electronically-is also available to the umpire calling balls and strikes.

The little voice in his ear says ball or strike, and he does his thing in the same manner that he has always done it, except that in this case, no camera will ever prove him wrong.

I want this to happen not only so that balls and strikes are called properly, but I also want it done so that great pitchers who make great pitches, get credit for it. I don’t like that catchers can frame pitches to fool the umpire. I think a pitcher who throws the perfect pitch at the right time, should be allowed to benefit from it.

If we can accept and embrace the replay system, because we want it done right, why can’t we do the same for balls and strikes?