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OPINION: Bad umpiring tarnishing America's Pastime

By Peter Funt

Baseball has a stat for everything: WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), LIPS (late inning pressure situations), ERA and IRA (earned runs allowed and inherited runs allowed), plus dozens more. But as my math teacher was fond of saying, "Garbage in means garbage out."

Baseball's nagging problem is BUSTS (bad umpiring and scoring tarnishes stats).

Players and fans alike are losing patience with inconsistencies among major league umpires and official scorers. What good is a pitcher's K/BB (strikeout-to-walk ratio) if umps can't agree on the strike zone? How important is a fielder's FPCT (fielding percentage) if scorers differ widely in determining what is a hit and what is an error?

The biggest beef with umps is that the strike zone, although clearly defined in the rules, is called differently by almost every official. It's so bad that Mike Krukow, the former pitcher and veteran color commentator in San Francisco, begins each telecast by explaining the whims of that day's home plate ump. Analyzing umpire Alan Porter, for example, Mr. Krukow said: "He can have a weird zone, it's a little inconsistent." In the same telecast, he added, "On getaway day, umpires are more likely to call a strike on a checked swing."

Many fans, myself included, appreciate the human element in baseball even among umpires and oppose suggestions that fancy electronic tools and more instant replays should be added to the game. But there is no reason why Major League Baseball can't insist upon a standard interpretation of the strike zone. If an ump blows a call, so be it, but no ump should be allowed to invent his own rules. Chipper Jones, the Braves superstar, raised eyebrows last season when he candidly labeled umpiring "substandard."

Official scoring is even worse so much so that MLB is finally moving to deal with the gross inconstancies. Joe Torre, former Yankee and Dodger manager and now an MLB executive, has taken on the chore of reviewing controversial scoring decisions and, on occasion, ordering that an error be changed to a hit or vice versa.

Following a recent Yankees-A's game, Mr. Torre decided the scorer was wrong to charge Oakland's Coco Crisp with an error on an outfield fly. The decision had a domino effect in the record books, with changes to the stats of the fielder, hitter and pitcher.

In most cases, scoring seems to protect fielders while boosting offensive stats. Too windy? Hit. Bad bounce? Hit. Ball falls while two fielders stare at each other? Hit. Sun in fielder's eyes (even if he had sunglasses resting on his hat but declined to wear them)? Hit.

During the All-Star game, outfielder Bryce Harper stood with a confused expression as Mike Napoli's routine fly dropped to the ground. Ruling: a hit. Come on.

How about the routine grounder that is bobbled by a fielder and results in a single out when a double play was possible? It's not an error because, as the infamous scoring axiom has it, "you can't assume a double play." Why the heck not?

The trend to favor fielders is unmistakable. The 11 highest fielding percentages of all time have come in the last 11 seasons, and overall errors are down by about 25 percent since 1970.

Scorers will sometimes check with a player after the game to get his opinion about a ruling. Sounds charitable, but that's not how officiating is supposed to work.

MLB insists its goal is to remove as much subjectivity as possible from both scoring and umpiring. But Mr. Torre shouldn't have to be changing scoring decisions after watching replays on his office TV, and players shouldn't require a pregame tutorial on how the home plate umpire will interpret balls and strikes.

As the season heats up, most of us watching from the bleachers or the couch are rooting for fewer ifs, ands... and BUSTS.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

July 16, 2012 - 3:24am


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