Umpiring Injustice: The Human Element in an Evolving Game

The Toronto Blue Jays have been up against some tough umpiring, there can be no argument about that.  Fans have been whispering (some have been shouting) that umpires have been on the take in several of the Jays’ series and this is part of the reason that the Blue Jays are losing games.  When you look at PitchTrax, fans can see balls that are called strikes, and strikes that are called balls, and it seems that it’s happening more this year than any other year.

How much of this is just pent up frustration as we watch a team we know has the potential to be in first place struggle to stay at .500?  How easy is it to ignore the fact that the poor calls seem to be swinging both ways when we’re biased on the side of our beloved Jays?

Perhaps there’s more than mere bias at the root of this problem.  The fact that fans can see each pitch on PitchTrax as opposed to having to rely on their eyes gives them an unfair advantage when it comes to criticizing the umpires.  Umpires rely on their eyes alone, and cannot see a ball’s location on a computerized screen.

What’s more, for every “poor” call that an umpire makes when it comes to calling balls and strikes we have

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports

instant replay (something umpires also do not have in the moment).  Fans can sit back and watch the catcher frame the ball perfectly in slow motion review, and then criticize the umpire for the bad call that they made while the ball was traveling 99 MPH or curving back into the zone with the assistance of the catcher.

Umpires are part of the pure human element of the game, and that pure human element is what makes the game beautiful.

We’ve added video review and instant replay to further “aid” in the correctness of the umpire’s calls.  Without getting into the issues surrounding the speed of play, video review makes the game more complex and removes the simplicity that once made the game beautiful.

With the addition of instant replay and video review the fans, players, and managers have begun to lose respect for the authority of the umpire.  Their word used to be final, and they used to be judged and operate on the same level as the players.  That is no longer the case.

Now they are held to a higher standard; they are held to the standard of being perfect even under slow motion, seen from every angle, forward and backward, video review.  Almost every call they make may be challenged, and if it is, their calls might be “overturned”. 

Remember the game of baseball before there was interference from electronic sources?  The game flowed, it had a pure human element, and fans had to depend on their eyes to tell them if the umpires were making good calls or bad calls.

There were definitely some plays that would have benefited from video review, the 1992 near-triple-play in Game Three of the World Series at the SkyDome comes to mind; however, for the most part, the game did just fine before we added ways of monitoring the accuracy of umpires.

How far will this electronic revolution in baseball go?  One fan suggested that we might next see robot umpires, or perhaps no umpires at all and instead we’d just have sensors placed around the field on bases, bats, and gloves.  These sensors would light up when the ball hits the ground (safe), when a ball hits a glove (out), when a glove hits a base (out).  You get the picture.

This is a crazy, far-fetched idea, but is it really that far-fetched to imagine umpires removed from the game altogether?  We already have PitchTrax calling balls and strikes, and video review for all of the contentious calls, so what are the umpires at this point except ghosts of their former selves and Pawns playing at being Queens.