Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Attention To Detail


I love baseball. All the normal reasons, of course, but also because I am an umpire. Umpires provide a critical function, not in terms of exciting the fans, but in looking out for safety, sportsmanship, and fair application of the rules. It’s not easy to be an umpire, but it’s important to the game that they are there.

One statistic that a lot of people do not understand, is the claim that Major League Umpires make mistakes on approximately 7% of their calls. The first time I heard that, through my Umpire Association as it happens, I wondered who was making that claim, but on further thought I realized that could well be right. First, consider that the Home Plate umpire in a game may have to make almost 300 ball/strike calls in a game, and you can see how hard it would be to maintain a 93% accuracy rate. Also, it’s possible for an umpire to make a mistake but still get the call right, like an umpire who is in the wrong position to see the play, but who still makes the right call (that’s kind of complicated, so I will just say here that this does happen, though it makes the discussion with the unhappy coach a bit more difficult). The reason that umpires can still manage their duties effectively though, is because as each play unfolds, an umpire considers the most likely and most critical possibilities of the play. So, a Field umpire might miss seeing what a baserunner is doing, but he will make sure to get the catch/no catch call right. A Plate umpire will make sure he has the Home Plate covered for a potential scoring play. They might miss a detail, but not the main play. Some would disagree, but those are almost always people who have never spent a moment with the rulebook or working a game in the blue, and in any case they weren’t in position to see the play as well as the ump.

Right about now, I think of President Bush as a good umpire. Not popular at times, and he might make some mistakes, but he knows the calls are his and he makes sure the ones that really count, he gets right.

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