May 2, 2008

Bending The Rules

Announcers often say that a veteran pitcher will get the benefit of the doubt from the home plate umpire on a close pitch. Likewise, a rookie had "better go up there swinging" because he won't have any close call go his way.

No one really takes much notice of this, but after hearing it during the Red Sox-Blue Jays series (about Roy Halladay, I think), it got me thinking. Why is it okay to talk casually about umpires bending the rules to favour one player over another? You'll never hear any umpire admit it, but announcers, usually in a chuckling tone, say that it's inevitable, "that's just the way it goes".

It occurs (presumably) only on balls and strikes. I've never heard an announcer say that a rookie baserunner had better beat an infielder's throw to first base by two steps or the umpire will call him out. Or that a veteran outfielder will get an out called on a trapped catch. Or that a star's fly ball down the left field line will be called a home run if it's really close to the pole.

While umpires will make mistakes, they should also strive to enforce the rulebook for every player, not just the ones with more than a certain amount of service time. And announcers should, if they bring up the topic during a game, question the appropriateness of such blatant bias.

***

David Ortiz's right knee is sore -- "[expletive] sore." He banged it up sliding head-first into first base last Friday.
Yes, it was getting better. It wasn't bothering me that much. Well, it was, but not like it is now. It's just sore, I can't really explain. ... When I get a day off because of pain, it's because I'm dying.
Manny Speaks!

Various nuggets of info from "Gary from Chapel Hill", including:
* -- From Saturday through Tuesday, the Red Sox did not manage an extra base hit. The three game streak tied the longest by the Sox since at least 1956. The other two three gamers were in '65 and '74.

* -- It was the first time since '74 that a Red Sox offense has managed only 1 extra base hit over a four game stretch.
Globe:
Federal authorities are investigating whether the head of the US Marshals Service in Boston assigned deputy marshals, normally charged with tracking fugitives and protecting judges, to ferry Fox Sports broadcasters Tim McCarver and Joe Buck between their hotel and Fenway Park during last year's World Series.

15 comments:

Tom said...

Have you read this post on Beyond the Box Score regarding ump's calling close pitches balls vs. strikes?

Turkenkopf put in plenty of time to really break it down.

-t

redsock said...

Thanks for that link! I don't go to BtBS a lot, but I should. It's a great blog.

"... in general, the older you are, the more love you get from the umpires."

Jack Marshall said...

I don't believe it, not one bit. I've seen a lot of games, and the only aspect of this that is even occasionally true is that a player who has a reputation for having a good eye, like a Ted Williams or a Wade Boggs, probably produces a minescule bias on behalf of the umpire in favor of the batter's judgement. But if even that exists, it's subliminal, not conscious. Similarly, a wild pitcher who throws a borderline strike might not get the same call that a Curt Schilling would. But it's not a veteran-rookie thing, or even a conscious thing. I've umpired: it's HARD. Concentrating on the damn strike zone is hard enough---who can throw in all sorts of extraneous stuff? I don't see it.

Jack Marshall said...

Last week against the Devil Rays, their idiotic radio team kept suggesting that the Red Sox get away with all sorts of things other teams don't, and get all sorts of favorable calls from the umpires, because "they're the Boston Red Sox." They really sounded like they believe this, too.

As I said: Idiots.

redsock said...

Similarly, a wild pitcher who throws a borderline strike might not get the same call that a Curt Schilling would.

Well, that is just as bad. If throw a strike, it should be called a strike, even if you threw 8 straight balls before it.

And don't get me started on batters not making an attempt to avoid a pitch and still getting an HBP and first base.

Enforce the rules -- or get new umpires who will -- or edit the rule book.

Jack Marshall said...

My point is that it's an unavoidable bias, not an intentional one. You are correct that there should be no difference, but these guys are human, and humans can't avoid all outside influences on their perception. There were lots of stories implying that unpires would let Ted Williams, in essence, call his own pitches, because his eyesight was better than the umpires and because it was considered a truism: if it was a good pitch, this guy would swing at it and hit it. Calling a strike three on Williams created a prima facie argument that it was a blown call. But Williams DID get called out on strikes...I can't believe that the biases of this sort are anywhere near as prevalent as announcers think they are.

redsock said...

They really sounded like they believe this, too.

They were 101% serious. I've heard that from them (Staats and Migraine) for several years. They whine about the Yankees getting calls the same way. And they will cry about one call -- not even a blown call, but an inconclusive replay -- for several innings.

They act like Tampa would have won the East 6 years in a row if not for those meddling umpires.

nixon33 said...

i heard an interview with john feinstein promoting his new book on the michael kay show (i know, i know) wehre he follwed mussina and glavine around last season and wrote a book about it. he told a story where glavine seemed to be getting squeezed in the firrst inning on borderline pitches and was visibly upset. when he returned to the mound in the 2nd, the umpire (i forget who it was) approached glaveine and said, "tom, keep doing what youre doing"
to which glavine replied "huh?".
"keep doing what you're doing, tom, and you'll be fine today".
i found that pretty fucking interesting...thought id share that as a reply to yr post's subject matter.

sparky said...

I have to agree with Jack. I as well have umped (okay it was at the 12 y.o. level but still...)and there is SO much going on I simply can not fathom worrying about extraneous shit. I have a lot of respect for announcers like Joe C (for reasons other than the obvious) and he has always said ".. and he DOES have a discriminating eye.." when describing a batter who might get the benefit of the doubt. I've never heard him say that a player got a call because of his uni.

Also, I LOVE Manny's take on homeruns. "500? Don't bother me with 500, I'm there! I'm shooting for 600." Love it!

Jeff

redsock said...

And then we hear of an umpire's "generous" strike zone.

Why does this ump have his own zone? Why is this guy's zone smaller or taller or lower or wider than that guy's?

Yes, umpiring is hard -- that's why only a very few people (men, I mean) make it to the major leagues.

Grrrrrrrrrrrr.....

phil said...

Someone ought to write a paper comparing veteran hitters' relationships with umpires to (non-baseball) arbitrating repeat parties' relationships with arbitrators.

Jere said...

Another thing is the umpire "rooting for a great play." We've seen it recently, in fact, in a Red Sox game, where a guy makes a great stop or goes really far for a grounder, and then makes the throw, and everybody's anticipating what will end up as an incredible play if the guy is out. Right down to the ump, who'll then call the guy out even if he's clearly safe.

It's not that the ump went in thinking he's gonna root for one side, but as a play develops, he might be "influenced" by a number of things. It's these plays where I think it's a subconscious thing, not intentional. Same with Yankee Stadium. It's a loud, historic building and I absolutely believe umps have made calls where their mind tells them, hey, if I go in favor of the home team I'll get to make 55,000 people cheer. They're human. I don't believe they go in rooting for the Yanks, but I do believe a human can be influenced by things. Paul O'Neill admitted it, too, on a broadcast--that umps sometimes "root for the great play."

Stuff like that is different than what Allan's talking about--the strike zone, giving certain players an advantage--this should all be uniform. But again, the ump knows it's Babe Ruth up in the bottom of ninth with the game on the line, not Zeke Bukowski or whatever. I say, GET ROBOTS. If a strike zone is a set area, with today's technology, there should be a definitive way to tell ball from strike.

Jack Marshall said...

Ah, the "generous strike zone" crap. Now that is a genuine outrage. How dare an umpire have a personal strike zone? Have you seen those stats listing runs scored per game by home plate umpire? Year after year, the same guys top the list, and the same guys---the ones with the generous strike zones, like four inches outside is still a strike---call the pitches in more pitcher's duels. Apparently MLB thinks this is just an astounding coincidence.

"Grrrrr" is right.

steeplechase3k said...

I remember seeing a quote from a recently retired umpire when Qwestec was new, it went somthing like this "I hate it, there are times for some pitchers that I want to give him a strike 4 inches off the plate, and now I couldn't do that"

So he basicaly admitted that he doesn't care about the rule book when it comes to the strike zone...

I wish I could remember who said it...

L-girl said...

Last week against the Devil Rays, their idiotic radio team kept suggesting that the Red Sox get away with all sorts of things other teams don't, and get all sorts of favorable calls from the umpires, because "they're the Boston Red Sox." They really sounded like they believe this, too.

Their idiotic TV team did the same thing, and they absoltuely believed it. They were not joking.

he told a story where glavine seemed to be getting squeezed in the firrst inning on borderline pitches and was visibly upset. when he returned to the mound in the 2nd, the umpire (i forget who it was) approached glaveine and said, "tom, keep doing what youre doing"
to which glavine replied "huh?".
"keep doing what you're doing, tom, and you'll be fine today".
i found that pretty fucking interesting...


Me too! Wow.