Leading Off: Umpires shouldn't have personal strike zones
06/26/2013 12:00 AM
06/27/2013 8:34 AM
An oddity in major-league baseball is how the rule determining what constitutes a strike can be ignored by the men who are there to enforce it.
The rule is unambiguous. A pitch must be thrown over the plate, and it must cross the plate anywhere from an imaginary horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of a hitter's shoulders and top of his pants (at the letters) and a similar line at the hollow beneath the hitter's kneecap (at the knees).
The zone is quantifiable, included to provide a certain predictability that removes randomness from the game. It benefits pitchers, hitters and umpires.
Except it doesn't always work that way. Umpires get to set their own strike zones, apparently based on their personal preferences. Listen to game announcers, who generally detail plate umpires' tendencies: He's a low-ball umpire who won't call the belt-high strike; if the pitcher shows he can hit the corners, this ump will widen the strike zone as the game progresses; this guy will squeeze a pitcher, not calling the corners, a real hitters' ump, etc.
Don't just believe the Mike Krukows and Ray Fosses of the world. You can see it yourself.
We're not talking about missed calls or mistakes, either. You want the human element in the game, that's it. But deciding whether to follow the rules or set up individual standards is discretion not granted to umps.
As a friend points out: A basketball referee can't award a shooter two points on a graceful shot that rolls around the rim, then falls out. Likewise, a pitch in the strike zone is a strike, regardless of whether or not the man behind the plate likes it.
What to watch
Baseball, Giants at L.A. Dodgers, 7:10 p.m., Ch. 31: The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw has a 1.28 ERA in 18 career starts vs. the Giants.
Should baseball demand all its umpires to use the same strike zone?
Yes, a strike is a strike
No, it's part of the human element
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About This BlogMatt Kawahara has covered baseball for The Sacramento Bee for three years. Kawahara, a McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley graduate, joined The Bee in 2010. Before joining Sports, he was a general assignment news reporter. Reach Kawahara at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @matthewkawahara.
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