#Baseball The toughest job in sports officiating. All baseball fans have had the experience of noticing that pitches in the same location don’t get the same call, and shouting at the TV, “Ball? That was a strike last time!” I would like to appeal for a bit of patience for the umpire.
I believe that the home plate umpire has the toughest job in all sports officiating when it comes to making a call on the position of a ball (or puck). In every other situation involving such a call, even in baseball, the question is something like this: did it go over/across the line, did it land on the line, did it fall short of the line, did it touch the line? The line is a two dimensional object. In some cases (such as the hockey blue line) you take the width into account, and in others (such as the football goal line), you take the plane that the line defines into account.
The home plate umpire must identify a variable three dimensional space. It represents that fragment of the column rising from home plate, conforming exactly to that five-sided shape, “the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” Since players vary in size, and since this must be done when the hitter is in his batting stance, this is always a dynamic exercise. Then, he must note whether or not the ball passes through that space, and since the ball passes by in less than a tenth of a second, he must be sharp. Remember, if the ball passes through any part of that shape untouched, it is a strike.
There can be little question that the umpire is influenced by the flight of the ball, so he will perceive the movement of a fastball differently than the movement of a breaking ball. He tries to neutralize that effect, of course, but it is a factor. And, he must make a call every time. He can’t say, “Uh, I missed that one. Could we do it over?”
I am constantly impressed by how often they get those calls right, even the very close ones. So the next time you are tempted to go ballistic over a pitch that just barely touches the strike zone, take a deep breath, and give the guy a break, OK?