For the first time in his career, Ben Zobrist was ejected from a Major League Baseball game on Tuesday. Although the Cubs were unlikely to mount a comeback in any case, Zobrist’s ire was understandably raised when he struck out on this pitch number six instead of walking:
That’s a ball. It’s not the kind of horribly called pitch that lives on in infamy or anything, but it’s wrong. I can see it. You can see it. It’s wrong.
But home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi didn’t think so even after reviewing the tape, and, apparently, neither did MLB.
“The box that (players) see is not the box we’re graded on,” Cuzzi told the Tribune. “And it happens often. They go back and look at the box, and the box is not the same box we get graded on. It was graded an acceptable pitch. We get graded every day. And they may not care and may not believe that, but that’s the reality.”
And, you know, I can agree that if you were evaluating umpires on calling balls and strikes, you’d have to be more flexible than merely “right” and “wrong.” The human eye and brain can only do so much with an invisible strike zone and a ball moving in all kinds of directions at 90+ mph. Saying that Cuzzi’s incorrect call falls within the “acceptable” range actually does make sense to me.
But here’s the problem that raises for umpires and MLB: it only underscores how much worse humans are than an electronic strike zone would be (the very gripe that go Zobrist ejected). By defending yourself saying that this incorrect call was “graded acceptable,” you’re admitting that the human-eye system has flaws. Big ones, by the look of this particular call.
Every day, I get closer to moving over to the “there should be SOME kind of electronic check on balls and strikes” side of the fence.