Rick Roder
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Response to George Will



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    I have often found need to defend my friends, the Major League umpires. Following is a response I wrote to a George Will column published in the Washington Post. The piece was written by request of the umpires. It was submitted to the Post and was published on the umpires' website. It is a good example of my ability to persuade.

    George Will, in a column printed in Sunday's Washington Post ("Home Run Glut," Sunday, May 7, 2000, page BO7), somehow jumps from a discussion of the barrage of home runs this season to placing partial blame for the increase on the strike zone and the umpires responsible for it. He then haphazardly concludes that use of the phrase "my strike zone" should be grounds for immediate dismissal of an umpire.

    Mr. Will thereby joins the vast throng that bypasses the reality of the situation on the field, and enters into meaningless rhetoric about the strike zone, something he probably has never experienced first-hand.

    He ignores the fact, currently being proven, that trying to alter the zone by changing words on a piece of paper is very difficult. He also ignores the fact that, historically, the strike zone is something that has been very difficult to define.

    Having never been behind the plate to try working the strike zone, Mr. Will would not know that it takes years and years to develop a feel for the outside and lower parts of the zone. He would not know that the inside and upper limits of the zone are easily defined for the umpire by virtue of the positioning of his eyes. He would not know the amount of dedication and persistence needed to perfect the working of the plate. Nor would he have any idea of the remarkable consistency and accuracy that, on the whole, has been achieved by the Major League umpires in one of the hardest officiating tasks to exist across the spectrum.

    Mr. Will, and others that feel free to engage in uninformed discussions of the strike zone, fail to realize that, when it comes down to it, a called strike is a good pitch - sometimes an excellent pitch - that the batter should have swung at. The pitch that is above the batter's elbows is considered by everyone on the field to be a bad pitch. The pitchers and their managers and coaches do not want to be "up" in the zone. They are well aware of what can happen, and often does happen, when this mistake is made (another of Will's dreaded record-breaking home runs). Since the defense does not want it, the umpire does not want to call it. It is considered to be a bad pitch. If the pitcher throws it (and gets away with it) he is embarrassed. If an umpire mistakenly calls it a strike, he is embarrassed, and the batter is angered. Is it not evident from the way things really are out there that it is easy to move the strike zone up in a conversation, and difficult to make it occur on the field? Did Mr. Will fail to consider the possibility that to provide incentive to throw more high pitches, he may also be providing a platform for more home runs?

    Mr. Will ignores the years and years of effort of pitchers to throw the good pitch, and of hitters to swing at the good, yet hittable pitches, and to calmly wait for, and crunch, the mistakes. He probably never considered the many years of experience and adaptation that brought the umpires to the level of accuracy that they achieve on a day-to-day basis.

    Mr. Will is not likely to know, because he has probably never asked, just how many pitches a game "make or break" a plate job. He may be surprised to know that it takes a very minute dissection of just a couple of the hundreds of pitches in one game to find any variations or mistakes in Major League umpires' plate work. And the differences may easily be debatable, for the judgment call of the umpire remains just that: a judgment call. Also, in this age, any dissection and analysis of a pitch or pitches is probably directly related to the importance of the pitch in question to a game situation, and to the number of camera angles available to minutely analyze it in slow motion (not to mention the particular umpire's popularity or lack thereof with an announcer or analyst). Any honest assessment of all pitches judged by all umpires in all game situations is going to show that in the large picture, Mr. Will's and others' bantering about the strike zone is irrelevant.

    While Mr. Will seems to desire the ability to take away individualism and responsibility from the Major League umpires, he fails to consider that it is these responsible individuals who safeguard the game in the trenches on a daily basis.

    If part of the allure of baseball is in its subtleties, as Mr. Will suggests, what is wrong with allowing its umpires the same consideration? After all, part of what comes with stepping onto the field in plate gear is an inner commitment to one hundred percent accuracy. Some call it "survival instinct." To suggest that umpires arbitrarily step outside the established norm only to assert their individualism is to ignore the reality of the situation. To suggest that they are flaunting such activity by saying "my strike zone," is ridiculous, as is the penalty suggested by Mr. Will. After all, some would see the statement "my strike zone" as a subtlety leaning toward responsibility.

    Copyright © 2000 by Richard J. Roder. All Rights Reserved.


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© 2002 Rick Roder