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Baseball Umpires Admit They Guess Where Ball Is

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Rocky Roe (AP file photo)

Cooperstown, NY (AP) – At a press conference today at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rocky Roe, head of the Major League Baseball Umpire’s Union, announced what fans across the country have long suspected: that umpires have no idea where the ball is most of the time, and they simply guess.

The few occasions on which the umpires are 100% confident in their calls involve video review, when they can view the ball’s path in slow motion repeatedly before ruling conclusively. However, video review is only used in cases of possible or disputed home runs, and not for other plays, lest the game be slowed down even more than its normal, molasses-like pace.

The ramifications for this season are still unclear. With several tight races for playoff positions currently underway, fans will no doubt demand that the season be played out to its conclusion no matter what, and their money is a powerful factor in any decision. But the players, owners and umpires themselves will not necessarily be of one mind about the rest of the year.

As for why it took this long to come out and say it, Roe attributes the union’s silence heretofore to the confident tone that umpires are trained to adopt when issuing calls. Since the players themselves tend to defer to the officials on the field – and failure to do so often results in ejection and other disciplinary action – there has been little standing in the way of the umpires’ continued groping in the dark, as long as they make their calls with authority in their voices.

But the prospect of officiating for the rest of yet another grueling season, especially with unusually hot weather in most ballparks this year, helped finally overcome opposition among the umpires to simply admitting they’ve been clueless for nearly forty years. Many umpires now hope the rest of the season can be canceled, and that they can preserve the last vestiges of their dignity, which, Roe concedes, barely exists in the first place, given the comical uniforms, equipment, sounds and gestures they are called upon to use each day on the field.

In earlier years, when both players and umpires were generally less fit than today’s athletes, keeping track of the ball, while challenging, was still possible for most umpires. “Once players in general began paying attention to overall fitness and athletic ability, umpires couldn’t keep up with the speed of pitches, swings and throws on the field, and it became a more and more elaborate guessing game,” according to Bill James, a noted baseball statistician and analyst. “For a while the umpires have been floating the idea of performance-enhancing drugs to help them maintain certain reflexes, but their collective moral compass eventually won out.”

The consequences of the announcement remain to be seen, as Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has yet to publicly respond to these developments, and the Players’ Union representative, Donald Fehr, attended the press conference but was struck dumb and unable to answer questions.

Tony LaRussa, the recently retired manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and one who has spent the vast majority of his adult life playing or managing baseball, said that every player knew there were cases in which the umpires clearly made the wrong call, but that was accepted as part of the game and considered relatively rare, if frustrating for the players and managers. But given these revelations about the systematic cluelessness of the officials, LaRussa proposes computerizing the umpires’ jobs and eliminating that problem entirely.

“It’s not just a question of accuracy, of which we’ve had none for decades,” he mused. “It’s also safer for the players not to have a bunch of overweight, middle-aged grouches getting in the way all the time and potentially disrupting every single play on the field. I mean, that’s the managers’ job description.”

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Written by Thag

August 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm

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