Call 'em like I see 'em (cont.)
Posted: Friday March 30, 2007 11:29AM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 11:31AM
Miguel Tejada really talks. Remember infield chatter? Doesn't exist in the big leagues. The field is noticeably quiet. But Tejada is a bundle of energy, chirping for strike calls on close pitches, asking for the slightest of check swings to be appealed and yelling "Up! Up!" on any foul pop fly, even ones that are so far out of play that they fly over the roof of the ballpark.
Limited instant replay is coming. Television and its continually improving technology have changed the way sports are officiated. College and pro football, college and pro basketball, tennis and hockey are among the sports that have adopted some form of replay review to supplement human judgment. Umpires remain the last pure guardians of their game.
Unofficially, umpires must answer to both the QuesTec pitch tracking system, which is used to grade their ball/strike calls (and soon may be replaced by SportVision, a more sophisticated system used by mlb.com), and to television replays that can be seen by fans in stadium concourses and by players in clubhouses.
"One thing television has changed," says Reds manager Jerry Narron, "is it's gotten rid of umpires intentionally calling [strikes] on hitters when they knew they were balls, as retribution if [hitters] said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing. It happened. I was a catcher. I saw it. The umpires can't do that any more because every game is televised. They're watched all the time."
Says Tschida, "He's right. It did happen. But you know what? That's how the game was played then. Umpires were expected to control the game that way. In fact, the managers and players wouldn't respect you if you didn't step in like that sometimes, if you just let things go.
"But the biggest thing television has done is make everyone aware of our level of accuracy. It's actually been our friend."
Says Culbreth, referring to a former infielder, "I once asked Travis Fryman if he thought I had a tag play called right. He said, 'For five or six years I must have run miles up that [clubhouse] runway just to find out you guys were right. I quit worrying about it.'''
But very quietly major league baseball is studying a replay system in limited use: only for potential home run balls (fair or foul and whether or not they actually cleared the fence.) Such calls have grown increasingly difficult for umpires and are too important not to get right.
The strike zone is more consistent because of QuesTec.
"We're all human," Tschida said, "but in the past we probably had a greater disparity in individual strike zones than we have now. I'm not sure that having such great disparities from one umpire to another was good for the game."
Said Schilling, "I'm not talking about an Erig Gregg strike zone. Even as a pitcher you would be embarrassed to get some of those calls. But now, with QuesTec, the umpire has a two-inch buffer zone on the corner and the safe thing for him to do is call anything in there a ball and it's not marked against him. I'm pitching to a 17-inch plate, maybe even 15 1/2, instead of 24 or 25 inches."
Star players don't get their own strike zone.
Said umpire Sam Holbrook, "When I was a rookie umpire in '98 in the National League, we had interleague play down in Florida. Wade Boggs comes to bat, and the pitcher throws it 92 miles an hour right down the gut. I call it a strike.
"Wade steps back and starts to turn around. I'm thinking, What's he possibly going to bitch about? He says, 'Sam, do me a favor. Can you check that ball. I think it's got a little smudge mark.'
"'Sure,' I say. The guy throws it in. I look at it and there's this tiny dot about that big [a quarter-inch] that he saw on a baseball going 92 miles an hour. I said, 'Holy smokes.' It just shows you how good the really good ones are."
Said Culbreth, "It's a myth, this idea that, 'Do you give Wade Boggs pitches? Because it looks like you do.' No. Wade Boggs takes pitches because he knows what they are.
"It's like Greg Maddux. It's not that we're giving him that outside pitch. It's that he never stops throwing out there. If a guy throws a hundred pitches out there and another guy throws 10, it's always going to appear that this guy is getting the outside."
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