Umpires can blame TV, Internet (cont.)
Goren said he hasn't heard any grumblings from umpires about FoxTrax but did hear complaints a few years ago when Fox featured a camera mounted on the roof, high above the plate.
Not everyone is so keen on the use of pitch-monitoring systems.
"I think what's bad for the umpires is this PitchTrax because it's not fair to them," said TBS analyst and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley. "I think that's haywire. To me, I'm going by my eyeballs and I want to get on the umpires just like anybody else, but I have to give them a break because that PitchTrax is not an exact thing."
PitchTrax is the product of SportVision, the same company that created the yellow first-down line in football. Its general manager of baseball products, Ryan Zander, explains that two tracking cameras get 60 readings on each pitch, with a third camera in centerf ield in support. There is also an on-site operator, who re-sizes the height of the strike zone for different batters -- obviously, the height of the zone for 6-foot-7 Richie Sexson would be different than, say, 5-6 David Eckstein. (In fact, the height of Sexson's strike zone may be the height of Eckstein.)
Zander disagrees with Eckersley's assertion of inaccuracy, saying that PitchTrax is precise within "about a half inch." But he points out that exposing umpire flaws isn't his company's intention.
"What we want to focus on is really about the strategy of the pitcher and batter," Zander said. "It is a sensitive area and we understand that. We want to focus on is making a better presentation by the fan. We provide the tools, and it's up to production to use them."
A key culprit in engendering debate about the umpires is the league itself.
The league's official site, mlb.com, has not been shy in discussing the questionable calls, writing stories solely about the umpires throughout the playoffs, from the ALDS to the World Series. Despite the disclaimer at the bottom that articles are "not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs," they implicitly carry a sort of official acknowledgement when they run under the MLB banner.
The mlb.com stories themselves are no more critical than what a completely independent news source might write, but they have the added bonus of running alongside video clips from the game, often of the very plays in question. It's league-sanctioned second-guessing.
It's the same at the league-owned MLB Network, whose analysts are not limited in what they can criticize on air. Speaking in December before the launch, Network president Tony Petitti said, "We have to be credible. If it's what fans are talking about, they'll expect us to cover it." And so far, through steroid revelations and umpire mistakes, they've been true to that word.
But while the umpires have always been great fodder for fan debate, it's a radioactive topic among uniformed personnel, who either don't want to be fined or don't want to be labeled as whiners for questioning the umps.
"The great thing about today is that you guys get to see every play 10 times," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I don't have to make any comments, because you guys get to see them. Whatever the call is, that's what it is.
"I'm not touching that."
One Yankee insisted that the umpiring was not a topic of conversation among the players. But it's not completely a case of out of sight, out of mind. Lying on an endtable in the middle of the visiting Yankees clubhouse on Friday was the Oct. 19 edition of Sports Illustrated, neatly folded open to a short article discussing umpire blunders from division series games. With the crease in the margin, the thumbprints in the corner and the stray pen marks off to the corner, it was clearly a page of interest to someone and probably not for the small item on a boxing reality TV show.
Neither manager, when asked during Friday's news conferences, took a hard stance about expanded use of instant replay, though the Yankee's Joe Girardi seemed more open to the idea, presuming calls could be reviewed quickly without hurting a pitcher's rhythm.
"If it was expanded, I would like to see an umpire in the booth that could make a call within 30 seconds," Girardi said, "because I think most calls you could make within 30 seconds, which a lot of times would be quicker than a manager running out there."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, meanwhile, seemed reluctant to endorse more replay, noting that this is the way the game has always been played.
"Baseball is a human nature game," he said. "You're going to make mistakes, umpires are going to make mistakes, players are going to make mistakes, everybody in the game is going to make mistakes. Even managers make mistakes sometimes."
It was a different tune than Manuel sang after Game 2, when asked about the call at first base involving Utley.
"I'm not saying nothing about the umpiring," Manuel said Thursday night. "I'm just saying that he was safe. That's all I'll tell you. I'm not complaining about the umpire. I'm not saying nothing at all about the umpire. I'm just saying that he was safe."
Pressed further, Manuel used humor to deflect attention from further discussion about the disputed call.
"You know, I've probably never thought umpiring was good, if you want to know the truth," he said.
With television's new technology, we do know the truth. And that's the issue.
With additional reporting from Richard Deitsch in New York.
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