Friday, October 09, 2009

Age Old Debate: Umpires and the Human Element

There was a nice post on Baseball Prospectus Unfiltered on The Human Element of having umpires decide plays. The author, Joe Sheehan, played with that argument that many make that taking the umpire out would "take out the human element out of the game," and he noted all the things non-human that we are using today while we are not listening to or watching baseball.

I happen to agree with Joe, for the most part, but, of course, I'll be writing about the part I differ on. :^) But first, I totally agree with Joe that there is a lot of rules about baseball that is not open to interpretation, whether who touched first base first, or where the strike zone is. I don't like when umpires make a mistake that costs my team.

This was particularly egregious to me late this season, as I heard a lot of calls go against the Giants, and not an equal amount go for them. And some were blatantly obvious too, like the Schierholtz play at first base, he was clearly safe. I would like such plays to be removed from the game. As Joe noted, there are a lot of things we are non-human that we do and use.

Plenty of Human Element

But I think that goes away from the point, which is about umpires in a game, and losing the human element. I have never understood this point, to be honest. I mean, players are human, are they not?

I think the whole game is very human and taking away the mistakes that umpires make in a game does not remove the humanity from the game, it removes the errors in judgement that umpires make. I think the players make enough errors on the field to keep the human element in spades in the game. Giving the umpires the technology to make the right calls would just make the best sporting game in the world that much better.

Implementation is a Bear

But how would this be implemented without disrupting the game totally? Do we do it like football with replays and the coach gets three for the game? I've never seen any ideas that caught my fancy, but while thinking of it today, here is an idea I came up with, because I don't really like the limit placed on the coach/manager, what if the refs/umpires just have a bad day and just making a lot of poor calls? I mean, we all are human, no?

I think that the following would be a novel way to do it, it should limit the times it happens, yet does not limit the manager if he thinks the umpire team is just not having a good day. Each manager is allowed to question any call that is crucial, that is, causes something to happen on the field. Thus, strike one could not be questioned, but a called strike three can be and, of course, a questionable call on the bases. QuesTech makes correcting pitch calls easy (though not swinging strikes) and viewing a replay (with today's mobile/portable tablets, they can get a good viewing on the field quickly, particularly with a zoom feature and multiple angles) is already being done with HR calls.

However, that could lengthen the game a lot if the manager just feels very disagreeable that day. As a consequence, if the manager is wrong for questioning the call, he has to remove a player off his roster for the game, as if he announced the player to pinch-hit, then took him out when the other team changed their pitcher in response. Thus, this would limit the team from making a lot of calls for replays on any old play, but, if they truly believe that they are being wronged, then they can bring it up. Heck, they can announce the player the team is potentially sacrificing in order to make the call, that can add some suspense.

And it is still human, when you think about it, well, except for QuesTech. The umpires are still looking over the video and deciding what is right and what is wrong. There is still that human judgement involved. Now, however, the clear errors can be removed from the game, and any possible bias is removed (if you don't believe that an umpire can hold a grudge against a team or player, or still secretly roots for a team, then you don't really understand the human element).

Leaving a still very human game to be played, only the rules of the game are applied equally and not randomly going against one team or another. The main negative from this idea is that some player's feeling is going to get hurt, either once his name is announced, if that is what happens, or when he is removed from the game, knowing that the manager didn't think that he was that essential to the team.

The Game Has Changed Over History

Still, it is not like the game has not changed. There are not only divisions now, but the wild card team. And the abominable DH is still in the AL, and will probably stay there forever, the question is whether the NL can be strong enough to not implement it too. I like having the pitcher hit, otherwise, allow designated fielders too, heck, why not be like football and have an offensive and defensive team? It is not like that would slow down the game, heck, they can get in and out faster, no need to take a quick break, get your glove or whatever. The main problem would be, how do you now fit 40-50 people in a dugout built to fit 25-30? And there is the HR replay now, and probably other technology that will make their way into the game some day.

Heck, nobody today remembers, but it used to be 3 balls for a walk, the distance to the mound was variable for a while, we used to allow spitballs, batters hit without batting helmets, we used to continue to use the ball until it was falling apart, players would spike others regularly. The game has changed and will continue to change. But it should still be the great game that we love.

1 comment:

  1. I agree it is a problem. I used to think, no, it takes away from the action, the drama, of the game; but just in the last week there's been too many gaffes. And when you have division series decided in 5 games, they loom large.

    Obviously, if TBS can show us within seconds 4 different angles, the umps can see that too. I don't like something like QuesTech making the calls, but the calls should be appealable.

    I don't know the solution as far as a penalty for a "wrong" appeal. In football, it's easy, losing a time-out. No offense, but your idea doesn't sound right either - but another idea, giving the "wrong" appealing team one less out, if it's at the end of an inning, they start the next at-bat with none out. Or give the other team four outs their next at-bat.

    But you make a larger, excellent point - the game has indeed changed a lot over the years. There's no reason anything "has" to be any way. And more recent examples, lowering the mound, the DH, didn't kill anybody or the game. I don't like the DH, so I prefer NL baseball, but so what? You are right on the mark - this is not suggesting the pitcher throw a zuchinni or the letting the defending team hide the bases. It's reviewing a goddamn play.

    I don't have an answer. But there should be one.

    ReplyDelete

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