Ben Zobrist was ejected by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi Tuesday after arguing a strike three call two different times, including for an entire commercial break. That will get you tossed each and every time.
Cuzzi’s call, on an offspeed payoff pitch, was clearly incorrect. The ball was outside. Zobrist later admitted he used the opportunity to use the event in furtherance of his hobby horse, robot umps.
Clever? Yes. Intentionally incendiary? Of course. But do these comments, which are getting plenty of praise, make sense in the big picture?
The desire for an electronic strike zone is understandable. Both hitters and pitcher alike crave consistency from an umpire working the plate. This would guarantee that. And while I’m not personally opposed to such an idea, I wonder if Zobrist and those who are pushing hard for it are working on a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
Sure, there are bad calls. In every game, at every level, and by all humans tasked with judging balls and strikes. But this is a zero-sum game. One team gets screwed. The other benefits.
It’s not ideal, but it is baseball. Over the course of a 162-game season, the sample size grows large and something like a 50-50 ratio is achieved. In the case of the Zobrist call, the Cubs were penalized. The Brewers benefited. A human ump worked to their benefit. Today there will be an incident where the roles are reversed.
Replay was pushed as a magical panacea to cure all officiating mistakes. In reality, it just redistributes the penalty to the team that would have gotten a break without its existence. The same thing will happen if — or perhaps when — the electronic strike zone is implemented. Batters will be called out on pitches that would have been ruled balls. Pitchers will miss out on strikes that are a few inches off the plate.
It will be a different, yet still basically the same. I’m guessing most will deem it better and forget how it used to be. That’s fine. Some things are best not thought about in the quest for progress.
The hard fact remains: only 50 percent of the players will be happy the new-fangled and sentient technology exists on any given pitch. There’s no way around that.