The mystery of the strike zone

WHERE is that strike zone? It’s a matter of opinion (Flickr/Peter Miller).

Dear Mr. Howard,

The Umpire-Defender has logged on.  I am the guy that turns on the game to see the umpire. We exist. We are valid. Apparently that’s news to you.

When I get home from work, the first thing I do is flip on the TV to see the blue enforce the rules. That’s what I’m about. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching an umpire make a call. It doesn’t even need to be the “right” call, because whatever call the umpire makes IS the right call. That’s their job!

Umpires are the cops of baseball, and the game needs cops. You know what happens when you take the cops away? Law and Order descend into Chaos and Obscenity. You wouldn’t want a robot to police your city, would you? Have you even seen RoboCop? It scares the hell out of me. Umpires are the cops of baseball, and the game needs cops.

You see, baseball is a judgment game. You need someone to judge whether the pitch was in the strike zone, whether the batter swung the bat, whether the throw beat the runner. You need someone to eject the manager when they get out of line. Just like in real life.

And buddy, unless you’ve got some wonder-robot out here passing Voight-Kampff tests, I’m not interested. So you can keep your automated zone, and I’ll keep Jim Joyce’s perfect game.

T.T., Orange Co., Calif.

Dear Jerry,

Just like your cockamamie “RoboUmps,” you appear to be a quart low – on COMMON SENSE! Human (notice that word?) error is a part of the game. A pitch is 2” off the “strike zone?” Boo hoo hoo! If it’s that close, swing at it ya big baby!

What’s next in your automated world? Are hitters going to be worried about “exit velocity” and “barrel angle” instead of RBIs and BA? Next thing you’ll tell me is that pitchers will care about “spin rate” and “arm slots” more than wins and losses and ERA! Please! Never gonna happen!

Get a grip (on a hotdog and a beer), Robo Jerry!

Signed, “It Looked Like a Strike to Me” – Los Angeles

Dear Howard—-So, they first caught a glimpse of the Holy Grail back in the 1930s and now the brave new world of the Perfectly Consistent Strike Zone is within reach. Thanks to the growth by leaps and bounds of video technology, an element of the game once considered essential has been virtually eliminated. The Strike Zone has always been a mystery, and defining its parameters has been a journey of discovery for the pitcher, catcher, hitters and umpire every game.  Greg Maddox was a case study in pounding a location until the umpire would start calling it a strike. Koufax and Kershaw’s sweeping curve becomes a strike in later innings.

In 1985 Tom Seaver pitched a close game and won. After the game he ran into home plate umpire Larry Evans, complimented him on the game and criticized one call. It was a high fast ball that Seaver could sneak by some hitters. Evans had called it a strike. “I don’t want you to call that pitch a strike,” Seaver said, as Evans recalled a few years ago. “That was a mistake. I got it up too high, like a ball or two above the waist, and I don’t want any batter to get used to swinging at that pitch. My fastball is still my best pitch, my bread-and-butter, but if I keep throwing that one up there, they’re going to kill me.”

During the next year or so I’m going to pay special attention to what goes on in the strike zone for the first three innings, knowing that soon this will be lost to the game.

De W., Westminster, California

Jerry Howard’s “Baseball Notes” is posted on Fridays.


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