I love umpires. I don’t love to hate them like other baseball fans do though. I’ve always leaned in the direction of leniency. I know that officiating in any sport is difficult, thankless, and downright hazardous to your health in some situations. Umpires get it the worst though, perhaps because they’re involved in every play, or perhaps because they’ve been the subject of much debate over the last several years in determining whether or not MLB should rid themselves of umpires altogether.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has claimed he wants to implement a fully automated balls and strikes (ABS) system by the 2024 season. I have nothing against that. What I do have a problem with is the New York Times making it seem like umpiring is easy work. It’s not. It’s unfathomably hard and while after years and years of umpires working their way up to the MLB level, you’d expect better accuracy and consistency from them, I doubt any of us normal, average, everyday city folk, could do any better.
The New York Times’ umpiring game throws seven pitches at you, all of which were called incorrectly during the 2022 MLB season. It’s your job to watch a diagram of the pitch and determine whether or not each one was a ball or strike. There’s no visible strike zone, no pitcher, and no point on the diagram showing you where the ball crossed the plate, just a quick re-play and two options labeled “Ball” or “Strike.” I’m not trying to brag, but I went 7-for-7 with only the last pitch giving me a tough time. It’s not even really worth boasting about considering the success that other people have had.
At least the last guy has some sense. It’s not just way more difficult in real time where you need to make a decision moments after the ball hits the catcher’s glove, it’s also the angle at which the umpire sits. For this game, we have the luxury of sitting right behind the plate at an even eye-level with the strike zone. There’s no catcher obstructing our view, and we don’t need to worry about taking the hitters’ height into account, because the hitter isn’t in our peripherals, he’s in our direct line of sight. That’s not going to be the case for most umpires. The catcher can obstruct their view to balls low in the zone, hence why most of the pitches in the game were down low.
I loved playing this game, and I hope the NYT realizes how cool it is and turns it into a full-fledged website with consistent updates so I can spend my off hours convincing myself I could do better than Ángel Hernández. That said, this game also propels the notion that umpires aren’t good at their job, which frankly, isn’t true at all. They deserve more respect. I doubt they’ll get it after so many people got so many of their incorrect calls right.