In the bottom of the fourth inning last night, NESN announced in its nightly poll question: "Should The Strike Zone Be Automated?"
It is probably no surprise that the three announcers in the booth - Dave O'Brien, Jerry Remy, and Steve Lyons - all said No. And it is perhaps not a surprise that most people who bothered to vote were against automation (No: 69%. Yes: 31%). But what surprised me was the low level of discussion after the question was posed. After stating his objection, Steve Lyons quickly changed the subject, stating What Is Wrong With Baseball Today. None of what he said had anything to do with the strike zone and calling balls and strikes. Sadly, the discussion moved away from strike zone automation into something else entirely.
During the back and forth, Lyons proved beyond any doubt that he is one of the dumbest and most ignorant announcers working in major league baseball. He very clearly states that replay "never" gets any call right (?!??) and then implies that some teams are simply supposed to lose on blown calls because the game is not perfect. I guess losing games because the umpire refuses to enforce some of the rules or decides that he doesn't like you somehow builds character.
O'Brien: [Asks the question] I guess like tennis.
Remy: I say no.
O'Brien: You were shaking your head as soon as I showed you the question.
Remy: Yeah. No. I don't want to argue with a computer.
O'Brien: What do you think, Steve?
Lyons: I hate the idea. Why are we changing everything about this great game? We need to tell the computer geeks to go home.
O'Brien: Oh, I think you're overdoing it with "changing everything". We're not changing everything in the game, although I really agree with you on this.
Lyons: We have replay now, which slows down the game, and they never get it right.
O'Brien: I like replay. I don't like it slowing the game down, but I like replay and the fact that it's actually working, I think.
Lyons: You can't take anybody out at second base. You can't do anything at home plate anymore. Every catcher loves the contact. Every second baseman wants the danger of that possibility of him getting taken out.
O'Brien: Buster Posey didn't like the contact,
Lyons: That's why they changed the rule, though. One star player gets hurt, and you change all the rules the way the game is played. It's been played that way for 100 years.
Remy: I'll let you guys fight it out.
O'Brien: I don't like the idea of automated umpiring, though. Because I love the arguments, you know?
Remy: I like the fact that umpires, you know, I mean we complain a lot about it, but they have their own strike zone and you gotta know that as a player. You got to know that as a pitcher, as a hitter. And you know, we always talk about consistency with the umpires, as long as they are consistent, it's fine.
O'Brien: Yes, everyone talks about consistency and maybe that would be the way to solve that, but part of the personality of the game is the strike zone of every individual umpire.
[Long discussion about collision plays at second base; see first comment for transcript]
O'Brien: It's still 90 feet between the bases. Sixty feet, six inches. The game is still played the same way it's been played for 100 years. I know you don't like some of the rule changes. You can always change them back.
Lyons: But they won't. They're making too many changes. Remember, what was it three years ago, when they said replay was only going to be involved in fair and foul, and home runs.
O'Brien: I also remember about a decade ago, everyone was calling balks like crazy. We thought the game was changing because of that. Guess what? They stopped doing it after a while. I mean, I think baseball usually returns to its senses. I think that's one of the beautiful things about the game.
Remy: I agree with you, Dave. I think they experiment with things and if they don't work out, you know, you've got to change them. And I do think that rule at second base will modify.
O'Brien: I agree.
[Second digression; see second comment for transcript]
Lyons: Just to finish the thought on the umpires, too, and with the replay and stuff. I understand replay is here and I think it really shows some of the flaws in umpiring, because they miss some calls and they have to be overturned. But I also think that these guys, these umpires, are the best in the world at what they do. They have a tremendously difficult job and I still think they get most of it right. And when they don't, well, sometimes you're supposed to lose. I just don't think this game is supposed to be perfect.
O'Brien: I'll take you back to Ron Kulpa, though, in Yankee Stadium.
O'Brien: That was an egregious strike zone and obviously stole a chance for the Red Sox. I don't know how many Red Sox fans would feel about that the same way you do if the Red Sox lose the division by a game.
1. Major league baseball has been played for longer than 100 years. That takes us back only to 1916. The National League was 40+ years old by then. (Three of the Red Sox's championships happened more than 100 years ago.)
2. O'Brien mentions the season with all the balks being "about a decade ago". That was 1988 - 28 years ago! Nearly three decades!!
3. Lyons said: "It's been played that way for 100 years." ... That has been the defense of every heinous activity throughout human history. But we've always done it this way. I'm not comparing anything in baseball to an evil like slavery, but the goal of a sport (or country) should be to improve, to move towards greater justice, not simply stick with something out of habit.
4. Consistency with umpires. That will never happen with humans. If consistency is really want you want, automation is the only way to go. Even looking at one umpire - he will have a different zone game to game, inning to inning, batter to batter, even pitch to pitch. We've all seen thousands of examples of this. We see it just about every night in every game.
5. Why is a consistently wrong strike zone a good thing? An umpire refuses to call the game according to the rule book and as long as he keeps makes the same mistakes all night long, that's a good thing?
6. What if the first base umpire had his own "personal zone" around the bag and made his safe/out calls not according to whether the runner beat the throw to the bag but due to some other amorphous "personal" decision? We've been so indoctrinated about "personal strike zones" of home plate umpires that we don't see how bizarre the entire concept is.
7. O'Brien mentioned tennis as soon as he asked the question. They should have come back to that. Has the sport of tennis died? Have millions of fans turned away from tennis because calls on the lines are more accurate? Baseball will be a stronger sport when fans know that games and pennants and championships will be decided solely by the players on the field, and not be influenced by the emotions and personal whims of the men in blue.