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I was asked by a member of this website to tell everyone what it is I told him about the strike zone.

 

I played professional baseball from the A level to the MLB level from 1986 till 1994 when I was given a chance to go play in Japan. Each and every year I heard the same thing from baseball people in professional baseball at every level here in the states. "As long as the umpire in consistent with his balls and strikes calls from the beginning of the game to the end, that's all we can ask of him" What I found when I went to Japan that that statement about balls and strikes is flawed and here is why I say that. For 5 years I pitched in Japan and for 5 years I not once had to go into any game and have to figure out what the zone was going to be for the day because it was always the same from the 1st pitch to the final pitch of the game. There wasn't individual umpires with bigger zones than others, some weren't wider than others and some didn't squeeze the zone when a rookie came up and pitched, it was always the same no matter what because it was part of the rules to be the same. 

 

What was really fantastic was the umpires would practice just as the players did before the games. Yes, they would actually stand behind the catchers when the pitchers were throwing bullpens so they could not only work on their cracft, but they could then get a feel for the pitchers and what they are throwing. I remember in about my 3rd year over there I started throwing a different change up and at one time a big slow curveball. Before I went into the game with these 2 new pitches I had different umpires come see them while I was throwing bullpens so they wouldn't get caught off guard during the game. 

 

In my opinion, the pitches in the 1st inning are just as important as the ones in the last inning and in a lot of cases even more important. If I, as a pitcher, have to SEE what the strike zone is going to be in the 1st few innings, it might be too late as the score might already be 1 or 2-0 and that's all the other team needs for that day.

 

Anyhow, after playing in Japan for 5 years I came back and played 3 more years and again I heard the same things as before. If the umpire is consistent with his zone, that's all we can ask.

 

Sorry, but now I think we can all ask for more.

Views: 168

Comment by Kyle Grucci on June 22, 2011 at 12:28am
That's the way it should be here as well!  Think they teach that in the Japanese umpiring schools?  Sounds like American baseball umpires can learn alot from them.
Comment by Perry Lee Barber on June 22, 2011 at 1:44am

Interesting perspective, Kip, particularly since I'm coming from the other end of the baseball spectrum as one of those umpires whose rugged American individualism mandates that I call the strike zone MY way (which is, oddly enough, as close to the rule book definition as it gets.)

Your comments about all Japanese umpires calling the strike zone exactly the same from start to finish of every game struck me as especially thought-provoking. I'm no psychologist, but I'd venture to say it's pretty near impossible for even two umpires, much less an entire staff of dozens, to do that: human nature dictates that no matter how hard we struggle to conform to a certain standard, there will always be telltale stylistic mannerisms or quirks that identify us as individuals. Even the Rockettes are not always perfectly in sync :-) So I wonder what it is about the "Japanese way" that has you convinced all the umpires replicate each other's strike zones so exactly. Perhaps the work ethic implicit in the practice of calling pitches during bullpen sessions, which you seem to admire so much? (As do I, and I loved learning about this.) And Kyle, the funny thing is, back in the dark ages (the 1980s) when I attended professional umpire school down in Florida, a few Japanese umpires would attend every year specifically for the purpose of going home and spreading the gospel of umpiring the way they learned it in America. Something obviously has been lost (or gained) in the translation! At any rate, great post, Kip, and thanks for offering us your insights here on checkswing.

Comment by Kip Gross on June 22, 2011 at 2:11am

Perry, 

 

Everyone makes mistakes and everyone will miss calls and everyone will miss strikes and balls, that's human nature. Everyone makes mistakes. But never once, in 5 years did I ever go into a game having to wonder who was umpiring the game, what the zone was going to be, whether it was going to be a National League strike zone or an American League strike zone. It was the zone that was called by each and every umpire. In fact, I cant remember even one time where a player or a Manager was ever ejected because of the zone in a particular game. Sure, there were times where everyone thought that the umpire missed the call on the pitch, but it was always an isolated incident that rarely lasted throughout the game. 

 

I'm not bagging on the umpires here by any means because I think they are very good overall and i have a few that I talk to on a regular basis. But I have to give credit where credit is due, the Japanese umpires are all the same when it comes to the zone. If you don't believe me, tune in to the next game and watch. 

 

Perry Lee, did you ever work on your profession during batting practice or during bullpens? Or have you ever seen any other umpires doing it? Just curious, I wouldn't have thunk it would ever happen either if I didn't see it. The closest I ever got in the States was having Bruce Froemming come to a few workouts in Vero Beach to tell us what was going to be called and not called for balks. That was huge in itself.

Comment by Brandon Seymour on June 22, 2011 at 7:25am
I couldnt agree more with Kip. Giving a pitcher an extra bal width or two off the corners of the plate simply because he has good stuff is complete crap. Yes everyone makes mistakes and good calls and bad ones go both ways but consistency is not nearly as important as accuracy. Hearing "hes been calling that all day" is not a compliment, it is a clear indication that the umpire is calling a poor game. The players miss calls just as much but an umpire needs to understand that every disagreement isn't "complaining" and they need to learn to take a step back, reevaluate their call(s) or zone, and work on improving it. The best umpires are the ones you don't even realize are there.
Comment by Nick Frese on June 22, 2011 at 8:09am
I don't think a good umpire minds hearing legitimate, reasonable criticism about the strike zone (though of course, complaints about the strike zone are strictly prohibited by rule). What drives them crazy is when players and/or manager don't know when to stop. I've heard people go on and on and on...and on, from the start of the game to last out, and that is unacceptable, of course. I play and I ump, and I try to do things right in each job. You have your good days and your bad days in both jobs, too, and I guess that's part of life. All you can do is try to be your best on any given day.
Comment by John A. Baker on June 22, 2011 at 8:34am
Kip,

You’re absolutely 100% on the money - in fact, your remarks here are taken for granted in the professional game and expected, as would be the case in any professional endeavor.

It’s obvious that you’ve spent your time in the ranks of the profession - the business end of things. By you’re the use and choice of language, words and their composition. Especially the word ZONE as it pertains to strikes and balls. As you alluded to, this ZONE is what it is - a space that’s continuous with coverage particular to each batter and with depth, width, as well as height. The key to strikes in this ZONE is the complete coverage of the pitch - but, that zone does remain constant regardless of how the batter moves with his/her body, up or down even slightly as the ball comes THROUGH the ZONE. The plate also has ZONE influences, like the black edges. The black is NOT part of the plate, but only a reference for making it a little easier for the eye to pick up a moving object (the ball) passing over the plate’s part of the ZONE’S surface component. Professional umpires are sometimes surgical in this observation, while amateur umpires may be less so.

In the professional game, professional performance is so taken for granted by those who watch, that sometimes the expectations of those in the amateur game are expected to do the same. It simply doesn’t work that way. Being professional means a life long enduring pursuit of perfection. In this regard, professional umpires - like you alluded to Kip, don’t miss by much, if at all. Their craft is just that, a craft. They live it, eat it, sleep it. Their perception on the setup, the placement of vision, and finally the witness to each pitch is as close to perfection as anyone human is going to get. Again, their almost surgical.

In any conversation that tries to compare professional umpires with amateurs is flawed at the outset, in my opinion. And regardless of how one approaches the subject, any subject, relating to the two, one only has to see the prep and tenure between the two to realize just how different each is to their job. And yes, the subject of consistency would naturally come up with respect to the amateur - but never to the professional - NEVER. Why? Because the professional is just that, consistently near perfection because of the nature of his/her craftsmanship. The amateur, on the other hand, doesn’t have the opportunity to exploit the time in grade and level of play by witnessing player perfection - namely professional players. Professional players don’t miss much when it comes to the business end of the pitch.

Excellent topic Kip, you did justice to it big time.

Coach B.
Comment by Doug Ipock on June 22, 2011 at 8:44am
I really like this discussion and hope that this topic doesn't fall to the side. I have been involved in playing and coaching the game for quite awhile, the one thing that I can't coach is what the umpire is doing behind the plate I often have to tell my players that they have to adapt to what is being called. How fair is it when the umpire takes the bat out of the hands of the kids.

I think what bothers me more than anything is that when you ask them to clarify what is being called they take it as a personal attack. I am never rude or dis-courteous to any umpire but in order to better coach my kids I need feedback. Why not take a couple of seconds to explain why you made the call to help the player get better I don't think you need to extend the game but a few moments of your time would suffice.

Thanks to all the umpires out there, keep it in the zone, and we will have a great game.
Comment by John A. Baker on June 22, 2011 at 9:09am
Using the ZONE to your advantage

I was reviewing the most recent scouting reports of a club we were scheduled to play, and for some reason their second baseman stuck in the back of my mind. I researched some broadcast of a game he played two weeks earlier and remembered a play at second base where he was taken out by a base runner trying to breakup the double play. This second baseman came down hard on his right knee. Now this didn’t effect his running - but, I did notice that every time he’d take a pitch down and inside, he’d bend his back leg by pointing his back knee down - almost collapsing on it. This was a change in his batting posture from earlier appearances at the plate.

The day of our game, I had a skull session with those in the rotation that were scheduled. We covered every batter in the other club’s lineup. When I came to that second baseman, down and inside was the uniform of the day - nothing else.

When the man stepped into the batter’s box, took his stance, he set in motion the ZONE on his body that the umpire calibrated. As each pitch crossed his front knee, this batter would dive down with his back knee - thus he DELIBERATELY brought his back knee into a lower ZONE than that originally set. 1-2-3, gone. All during that game he and his bench never figured it out.
It was a pitch down and in - in lower than normal from his original stance with his back knee that got him out. Had he stayed up with his original stance, the pitch would not have cover his strike ZONE - being too low across the back leg’s knee.

Professional umpires see this constantly in their work with professional players. Amateurs umpires may not see this on a regular basis - but I’ve seen those amateurs that have, and to their credit.

I have no idea how anyone can umpire. It’s one of the few jobs that I know of where a person has to be near perfect - first time on the job, every time on the job. Add to that - thankless, unappreciated, and perhaps the most vilified official in the entire world. My hats off to you folks.

Coach B
Comment by Gregory Leonard Celeski on June 22, 2011 at 9:23am

I agree with Kip and I am sure thousands of players and coaches do also.  A strike zone is a strike zone.  From

little league to high school to college and beyond the standards differ.  If it was up to me I would have the plate umpire wear special glasses and install special vertical laser beams eminating from the inside edge and outside edge  of homeplate visible only to those wearing special eyewear so at least they could get that part consistent.  Baseball is stuck in the 19th century when it comes to technology.  You can watch K-zone from

time to time while watching games on T.V.  Give an ump a headset and a K-zone official could relay balls and

strikes.  I know it will never happen in a million years.  It's obvious electronic technology of any kind is taboo

on a MLB field in determining balls, strikes, and outs.  It's fun to think about though.

Comment by brad longley on June 22, 2011 at 12:09pm
I have not found where anyone has established the strike zone as stated in the rule book. Is the zone different in the rule books from USSSA or Little League/Cal Ripken to the Major League level?

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