To Kill an Elephant
For decades, major league baseball has had a large elephant in a small room.
The elephant: Umpires cannot see some pitches cross the home plate area. (How to see this on TV is described below.)
Umpires have an impossible job. They watch a baseball, sometimes going over 90mph as it passes home plate. If it touches the plate it’s a strike. If it misses the plate by one eighth of an inch, it’s a ball. (High and low are also factors.)
While the ball is crossing the plate area, the catcher’s glove may be moving, the catcher may be moving, and the bat may be moving near the ball on a checked swing.
To call pitches on both sides of the plate, umpires should stand centered behind the plate, looking over the catcher’s head.
They do not. Umpires stand centered on the catcher’s shoulder nearest the batter – the inside shoulder. They do this for two reasons. First, to better see the height of a low pitch, which must be at the batter’s knees or higher to be a strike. Second —and very important – if they stood over the catcher’s head they would be beaned many times by foul tips.
Watch the umpire as the pitcher is delivering the ball. He quickly bends down with his chin over the squatting catcher’s inside shoulder. Sometimes his chin is almost touching the catcher’s shoulder. He does this because of the low pitch and beaning factors.
Now the elephant. Sometimes, when the ball is crossing the outside plate area, the catcher’s head is crossing to the outside plate area –the catcher’s head is between the umpire’s eyes and the ball. The umpire must base his guess on whether the pitch is a ball or strike on the last time he saw the ball as it approached home plate. And the ball may be moving at high speed and curving at any direction.
How often does the elephant happen? That depends on several variables: height of the catcher; height of the umpire; position of the catcher; how low the umpire stoops over the catcher’s inside shoulder.
The catcher’s position is critical. For example, when the catcher has signaled the pitcher he wants the pitch inside, the catcher centers himself on the inside of the plate. The umpire – always centered on the catcher’s inside shoulder – is now positioned completely off the plate on the inside. His chance of being visually blocked from outside of the plate increases greatly.
Since baseball has never admitted there is a problem, no count has been made on the number of blind calls. Anyone can take a completely unscientific count by say, picking any three baseball games randomly and watching about twenty pitches in each game.
Highest count would be watching a tall catcher, a short umpire, and a pitcher who throws many inside pitches. (Some pitchers do not throw inside often.)
This blind spot problem could be solved easily by installing vertical electronic signals on each side of the plate. And would eliminate umpires making other bad calls.
Baseball traditionalists would scream in protest with such a change because next would come high on low pitches, a much more complicated problem.
But traditionalists should save most of their protest for a later date. Technology exists that would eliminate human umpiring from the baseball playing field.
This article was submitted by Don R. Hanes. He has watched big league baseball from coast to coast for more than seven decades. He misses: real doubleheaders; traditional pregame infield warm-up; Jimmy Dudley and Jack Graney on radio.