Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2005 / 25 Tishrei, 5766
Diagnosing Baseball's Ills: Treating the Strike Zone
By Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
The essence of baseball is a duel. One pitcher, one batter. The batter's
job is to hit a round ball with a round bat when that ball (in the Major
Leagues, at any rate) is coming at him at between 85 and 100 mph and he has
less than half a second to decide where the ball is going and how to react.
The pitcher, for his part, must get the ball there in a manner that the
batter cannot react to very effectively, or at all. Most times, to do this,
the pitcher must throw the ball so that it passes through the "Strike Zone"
an area over the plate and roughly between a line halfway between the
batter's letters and waist to below his kneecaps, once he has assumed
Pitching and hitting: two of the hardest activities in sport made harder
and harder by the inconsistencies, errors both inadvertent and flagrant,
peccadilloes, perturbations and private philosophies of a peculiar breed of
men known as "umpires."
It's not that we have anything negative to say about these self-important
judges. Nor will this Anaheim fan admit that he is still more than a little
annoyed over the outrageous calls that eliminated his beloved Angels from
the playoffs. Rather, I should like to point out an umpiretorial
shortcoming as egregious as it is widespread.
Namely: de-basing (to coin a phrase) the integrity of the Strike Zone.
Baseball is a game of inches. Safe or out, foul or fair, ball or strike.
Steals and slides may make the highlight films, but it's the "ball and
strike" category that usually determines the course of the game.
Unfortunately, every one of MLB's dozens of umpires seems to have his own
interpretation of the zone, and to vary it from team to team, player to
player, stadium to stadium, week to week.
Since there are approximately 1000 MLB players, a total of 162 games per
team, and roughly 300 pitches per game, this adds up to a lot of variance.
At the very least, umpiretorial preferences and quirks favor pitchers or
batters. As one of our sons explained some years ago, while in High School,
a large strike zone favors the pitcher, since he has more room to work the
batter. A small strike zone favors the batter, since the pitcher must throw
more often "down the middle" in order to get strikes, thus giving the
batter more meat. Any bad call can changes the odds of scoring or holding
the opposition. No, problem, you contend, since both sides get to bat and
all that matters is "consistency."
But there is no consistency. Umpires, it has been known for years,
consciously or unconsciously vary the zone for different batters and
pitchers, depending on their status, prospects, and prior experiences. Team
to team, batter to batter, stadium to stadium, even inning to inning. Until
we get some consistency in calls across the league, the choice will be
either going to some form of instant replay/appeal or accepting that, too
often, the game will be decided by the quality of the officiating, not by
the play on the field. Clearly, this is a matter that calls for serious
front-office consideration and ongoing retraining and monitoring of the
Lets hope the strike zone disorder can be solved internally without going
to replay. Fans don't expect perfection and besides yelling at the ump is
part of the game.
That said, our national past time belongs to the fans and players and the
umpires should follow the rules not philosophies.
Editor's Note: Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., Newport Beach, usually writes on medical-legal issues but this time of year becomes bewitched and hexed by baseball.
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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Comment by clicking here.