The one positive thing from Friday night’s Twins game (and there really was only one positive thing), is that Jorge Alcala has potential…great potential. Beyond that, and speaking of Alcala, it’s not just hitting homeruns late in one-sided games that needs to be addressed by the old-schoolers. In fact, I’d suggest that what I’m about to write about actually deserves a far more enlightened debate than we’ve had until now…it’s the variance within the strike zone.
For the most part, we’ve all come to accept (at least mostly…and thank god for replay) the human frailties of umpiring. Still, I’m growing ever more tired of the old school ways of many umpires when it comes to the varying strike zones for pitchers. Last night, Alcala’s strike zone was clearly squeezed. Apparently, he hasn’t yet “earned the respect” of umpires everywhere. It’s insanity.
Umpires miss calls, and we all know they frequently (often it seems every at-bat) miss ball and strike calls, but enough with the differing strike zones for different pitchers. I don’t mean this to sound like sour grapes…as the way the Twins played last night, it would’ve taken more than a favorable strike zone for things to have gone their way, but come on, let’s dispense with the “earned respect” aspect of larger strike zones for veteran pitchers and smaller strike zones for rookies and newbies.
Life is hard enough these days, without a further installation of privilege into what should always be merit-based…Major League sports. I’m reminded of the old umpire adage that the umpire cannot miss strike or ball calls because they aren’t strike or ball calls until they make them. In other words, they’re making stuff up out there….and they’re doing it far too often. I can accept the occasional mistake, and I can accept the occasional star pitcher getting a wider strike zone because…well…they’re just that good…but come on…this insanity has got to go the way of some other old school principles, in a call for simple fairness and greater consistency.
I’m not necessarily advocating for a technology rather than human based strike zone, but then again, I might be convinced that I should be. Like other old-school notions that we all take a look at, I think of myself as being open-minded (who doesn’t really), and thus, I’m willing to consider alternatives to what we have in place now. The reality is that some of these umpires are just…well…not that good at their jobs, and it may be time for automation to seize this evolutionary moment.
I hate that it might mean the loss of a few jobs, but surely, if a home-plate umpire is somehow replaced, we can find another location for them where they can contribute to the game without screwing things up so badly. Perhaps every fourth day instead of umpiring behind home plate, one of the umpires could visit schools and read to schoolchildren or volunteer at a local hospital…something that would contribute more to society, than varying the strike zone based on the established credentials of the pitcher. It’s time to stop the madness, and enter the 21st century.
There has been some much needed and quite thoughtful debate since Fernando Tatis, Jr. had the unmitigated gall or the need to hit a fastball down the middle (depending on your point of view) to take a good swing on a 3-0 count when his team was already up seven runs. Much of that debate centered on the “unwritten rules” of baseball and some of the archaic nature of those rules. It’s time for another debate concerning the strike zone. I know I’m far from the first to suggest this….but I’d like to be one of the last…let’s get over ourselves with some of the tradition and move forward into a more progressive and merit based era of the strike zone. Instead of calling them as they sees them....perhaps umpires could call them as they really are.