The Corner

Baseball Reform

In response to As I Suspected

Bring on the laser strike zone, Rich, at least for the horizontal plane, which corresponds exactly to the outline of home plate. Using laser for the vertical plane would be hard, though, not necessarily because of the technology but because the definition of the vertical plane is fuzzy. It’s taller or shorter depending on the batter. According to the official rules, the top of the strike zone is “at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants,” and the bottom of the zone is “at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”

That language would raise questions for anyone trying to figure out where to focus the laser. Which shoulder? Does “the top” of it include the uniform? What if the fabric is rumpled over the outer clavicle? Baseball is a game of millimeters, after all. What if the player decides to wear his belt high, to gain advantage? What is the “hollow beneath the kneecap,” anyway? Even if the Playing Rules Committee specified, the umpire — or the laser operator, or somebody — would have to use his judgment to determine the pinpoint that would mark the southern border of the strike zone for each batter.

No one thinks like that now, because everyone recognizes that calling balls and strikes is an art as well as a science. “In any game, actually,” Bruce Weber explains in As They See ’Em, the best book ever written on professional umpiring, “the opening innings involve the pitcher and the catcher negotiating the parameters of the strike zone with the umpire, with the hitters going back to the dugout and delivering information, warning teammates to swing at the ball off the outside corner, for instance, because the ump is calling it a strike.”

It’s a concession to the limitations of human perception. That pitch that barely caught or barely missed the corner — someone has to call it, and the pitcher, batter, or catcher would approach it with an obvious bias. Hence, the third team on the field, the men in blue. Well, on the narrow question of whether a close pitch caught a corner of the plate, technology is more reliable, so let MLB delegate that work to lasers. For upstairs and downstairs, though, I’d rather that call be made by the home-plate umpire than by the laser operator, unless the laser operator is also an umpire. 

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