Bock’s Score: Baseball’s Next Stop, The Strike Zone

Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

Baseball’s strike zone is something like the stock market. It goes up. It goes down. But it rarely stays the same from one umpire to another.

It shouldn’t be all that confusing. The rulebook spells it out pretty clearly. It currently reads that the area from a batter’s shoulders to knees is a strike, assuming the pitch arrives over some part of home plate.

That, of course, is open to the umpire’s interpretation.

And stay tuned because the rule has a tendency to change. It changed in 1996, moving from the top of the knees to the bottom of the knees. It changed in 1988, moving from the top of the shoulders to the top of the uniform pants. It changed in 1969, moving from the armpits to the top of the knees.

You get the idea. The strike zone is not etched in stone. It is fluid, flexible and sometimes creates a terrible headache for umpires and managers.

That seems to be most prevalent during the current postseason when the zone sometimes moves from batter to batter and from inning to inning. This is a rather serious problem.

The solution could be in baseball’s inexorable embrace of technology. The Grand Old Game loves all the gimmicks that have invaded modern baseball. Let’s hear it for wins above replacement, spin rates for pitchers, exit velocity for hitters. New age baseball is all the rage.

If the moving strike zone troubles the game’s movers and shakers enough, the solution is robot umpires. Every ballpark today is equipped with an army of cameras, slicing and dicing every play. Why not every pitch?

MLB has ordained that lower minor leagues like single A ball experiment with this type of gimmickry and it is on the radar, perhaps not next season or the one after that but certainly down the road as management continues to tinker with what once was the world’s best sport.

Human umpires will not be happy. Longtime practitioners are unlikely to willingly turn over their judgments to cameras and computers. That’s life. They will get over it. After all, the goal is perfection and technology offers that. The human eye does not.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once was asked about obscenity. He had the classic response. “I know it when I see it,’’ Stewart said.

Balls and strikes ought to follow the same recipe for home plate umpires. And if some piece of fancy hardware aids that outcome, bring it on.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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