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Does baseball need umpires?

Oct 13, 2009, 8:20 AM EDT

Or at least so many, especially in the postseason.  That’s the question Jonah Keri asks in today’s Wall Street Journal in the wake of some shaky officiating in the first round of the playoffs:

The idea, of course, is that more umpires means better play-calling.
But this isn’t necessarily true. After Friday’s game, Tim Tschida, the
umpire crew chief on duty that night, told reporters that while there
was no excuse for Mr. Cuzzi’s blown call, there was one contributing
factor. Umpires spend so little time working in the outfield during the
season that it can be a challenge in the postseason. “Getting into a
position is a little bit foreign,” Mr. Tschida said. “It’s a little bit

In an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger, Mr. Cuzzi also said the
positioning was a challenge. “We’re not used to playing that far down
the line,” he said. “The instant the ball is hit, we usually start
running. I think I may have been looking too closely at it.”

Keri goes on to note the accuracy of the Pitch-f/x zone evaluation system, and the use of the Hawk-Eye cameras in tennis for line calls, and asks whether, rather than throwing six umpires out at a playoff game, we couldn’t limit that number and rely more on technology to get balls and strikes and line calls right more often.

The usual battle lines of this debate end up being those who want every call to be right with no excuses whatsoever vs. those who are wary of taking the “human element” out of the game.  I’m sympathetic towards the latter viewpoint, especially when it comes to calling balls and strikes — I get a lot of enjoyment out of the cat and mouse game pitchers, catchers and batters play with the strike zone — but I can’t help but think that we’re on an inevitable course towards technology playing a larger role in the game.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to have a digital camera system make accurate line calls, so what’s the argument against it?  And once you go there, how long can those of us who like to see a little human variance in the strike zone really hold off the advance of progress?

  1. Rod Snook - Oct 13, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    I say get the game back to it’s purist form. This includes no DH and raise the mound back up to it’s original height. I do think that instant replay should be expanded to ALL fair or foul calls, not just home runs.

  2. Doug Sinclair - Oct 13, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    a hitter deserves a hit when he makes a hit. imagine if he only needed on more hit to move his average from .399 to .400. or if he needed that hit for his 200th hit. you telling me the batter needs to just deal with it? oops sorry and my bad. hitters work too hard in a season to not give them props when props are due

  3. Andy - Oct 13, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    The best argument for use of an extra instant replay official (sitting in the umpires locker room, reviewing plays as they happen and signaling the crew chief when a review is warranted) is that even if Mauer’s ball had landed in foul territory, it’s still a fair ball because Cabrera touched it (before it landed) while he was still in fair territory. Presumably, Cuzzi was focused on the line and missed that part of the play — an honest mistake and an easily correctable one.
    Amid all the hue and cry to rid baseball of “cheaters” using PEDs, the simple truth is that cheating is not only tolerated, but practically glorified, in baseball. The “phantom” touch of second on the front end of a double play, the catcher “framing” an outside pitch to get the strike call, an outfielder trapping a ball and then acting as if he caught it are all commonplace. Even the umpires get in on the act when they literally double the size of the strike zone on 3-0 pitches.
    MLB accepts these cheats and the cronies in the media ignore or even embrace them (just listening to ESPN’s Joe Morgan lionize such gamesmanship makes me sick). Meanwhile, everyone at home (and at the ballpark, thanks to Jumbotron) knows that a mistake / cheat has taken place. What a sorry example of sportsmanship for any little leaguer who might be watching. Is it any wonder that our society now tolerates outright lying from our political and business leaders, or that our Internet driven media seemingly has no standards for accuracy in reporting? America’s pastime, indeed.
    Imagine the lesson in sportsmanship if Melky Cabrera had approached Cuzzi after the play and told him, “Hey, I know you were watching the ball to see where it hit, but it ticked my glove before it landed.” Of course, then we’d have to explain to our kids why the Yankee fans were burning one of their own players in effigy.

  4. Wait til next year - Oct 13, 2009 at 3:11 PM

    I second what you just said but also want mention they should abolish the DH. It’s amazing how we can pay to watch someone making millions to step up to the plate four or five times a night and watch the game from the best seats the rest of his time there. Relief pitchers don’t have it that good.

  5. Jamie - Oct 13, 2009 at 3:49 PM

    If the line umpires have trouble getting in position, why don’t they just stand up against the outfield wall looking directly down the line? They would have a dead-on view of the line, and they would rarely have to move at all.

  6. bh0673 - Oct 13, 2009 at 5:41 PM

    Forget Cuzzi’s bad call you can’t assume the run scores nor can you assume Girardi would have had it played the same way. Theoretically you could use questec or some other system to call balls and strikes and instant replay to determine all other plays. You could have one maybe two umpires maybe even have one up in a booth somewhere watching the game on TV. However that isn’t baseball and calls do get botched and the Yankees have had their fair share as well. There were a lot of bad strike zones in several of the series and they probably had a bigger impact on the game then one foul ball call. Yes you really don’t need umpires in the electronic age of HD and cameras watching every play but in the end the human element good or bad has been a part of the game and calls can go either way good or bad.

  7. Corey Kendall - Oct 13, 2009 at 8:32 PM

    YES, baseball needs umpires. What kind of STUPID question is that anyway?? Baseball has had umpires since its inception. Sure, there were a lot of questionable calls during the Division Series, but has anyone here ever heard of the term “Human Error”? It happens in baseball…Don Denkinger, anyone?? I understand if they need instant replay for certain HR calls, but what next, you want instant replay for each & every close play during the games?? How many instant replays per game to people have in mind anyway?? Maybe 1 or 2 per game is fine by me, but we don’t need to have replays for EVERY call, do we now? Yes, they need to get the calls as accurate as possible, but mistakes happen during games, & it’s up to the teams involved to overcome those obstacles themselves. And besides, if we left it up to the fans to decide, well, let’s just say that there would be a lot of “homer” calls in favour of certain teams, now, correct?

  8. Get with the program - Oct 14, 2009 at 12:15 AM

    Of course we have a notion that baseball is better unchanged and left as it is with the “human element”. I’m sure it is a significantly easier to argue that if you are not a fan of one of the teams that were directly affected this post-season by bad calls. I would like to see a change. primarily because in the post-season it matters. 162 games are played to determine the best teams and those next games are for all the marbles. We expect professionalism and accuracy from umpires but when that human element fails we have no recourse or review. If we just say oh well “oops” shrug our shoulders and say “it happens” and “part of the game” someone is being cheated.

  9. Get with the program - Oct 14, 2009 at 12:31 AM

    I am going to assume that you follow the Yankees because that is the same excuse that I have been hearing all week from Yankee fans about a run scoring or not. If I am wrong I apologize. What I can say is that you can’t exclude that one call in this argument because it sticks out as the most blatant example of a crappy call… extra innings in a tie game. He should get that call right and a run probably would have scored. whether it would have mattered is another argument altogether.
    There is nothing wrong with being satisfied with the status quo and accept the fact that calls are missed. What I really wonder is that if that call had come in a world series deciding game if you and others would still have the “aw-shucks-oh-well” attitude about it. The way things are going thus far we may actually see just that in a couple weeks.

  10. bh0673 - Oct 14, 2009 at 7:33 AM

    There have been calls against the Yankees and in playoff games that have gone against them. I may root for the Yankees but it is a fact you can’t assume the run would have scored. Now as far as would it have mattered again you can’t assume Texiera’s home rune either. Taking the human element out of the game is a tough call, adding instant replay for more things again I am not sure is the answer but again I do feel that bad strike and ball calls and an inconsistant strike zone have a bigger impact on the game then calls on balls in play that are wrong. Chuck Merriweather had more then a few bad strike three out calls then Cuzzi’s bad call. Again the outcome could have been different if the strike zone had been consistant but you can’t assume the outcome would have been different.

  11. dkp - Oct 14, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    Not only the bad calls, but the ego’s of some of the umps so undeserved! They are changing the game more than anything.

  12. Bill - Oct 24, 2009 at 4:09 PM

    No. Your wrong. When you buy a ticket to a game you’re going there to see two teams compete and try to win. In doing so, the officiating needs to be perfect to ensure that no side gets an unfair advantage, and winning and losing is ONLY up to the players. If we could have robots replace these umps and they would get every call right I would sign up for it in a second. We don’t watch baseball for the umpiring, its to see the most talented players in the world compete against EACH OTHER. There should be no other factors, except weather is fine and affects both teams equally.

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