MLB: Is Baseball the Worst Officiated Sport?

Jordan HofeditzAnalyst IAugust 5, 2008

In every major sport there is that element of human error on the side of officiating, whether it be not calling a penalty in hockey, holding onto the flag in football, or failing to count how many steps Kobe Bryant took running through the lane in basketball.

But baseball is the only sport where everything can be controlled by an umpire.

He stands behind home plate and calls balls and strikes. He stands at first base and determines whether the ball beat the runner or vice versa. There is rarely a pitch that an umpire doesn't have some kind of impact on.

Every other sport has begun to utilize technology in their officiating. Football has instant replay, hockey can go to the replay booth to see if it was a goal or not, even basketball referees will go to the scorers table to check a last second shot. But not baseball, not yet at least.

Almost every network that televises a Major League Baseball game has some kind of graphic, what ESPN calls "K-Zone." It shows a box that is the strike zone and pinpoints the location of the ball as it crosses the plate. Every viewer at home knows whether the umpire just blew a call or not.

Instant replay may be coming to baseball, but probably only to determine whether a ball was a home run or not, or fair or foul. They can't stop the game after every pitch.

But isn't that something we love about baseball? That your pitcher might get the benefit of the doubt on a ball that might be out of the zone because he's been consistent all game, or when your slugger takes a pitch that might be close it's called a ball because he is known for having an amazing eye at the plate?

Of course.

Without that you wouldn't have Lou Piniella running out every other week for one of his famous outbursts at an umpire. You wouldn't see a hitter stand there in disbelief after strike three being called against him or see your pitcher walk halfway to the dugout before realizing that the umpire called the pitch (that was clearly a strike according to him) a ball.

The problem is that it is consistently bad umpiring. Take Monday night's game between the Rangers and the Yankees.

Any pitch could have been a ball just as easily as it was a strike. Some umpires have a skewed strike zone, but at least it is consistent. One might like balls in, some out, some up, some down and that is OK, as long as they stick with it.

Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher couldn't decide what zone he wanted, so it changed every inning if not every pitch. That's when umpires get annoying. It also gets annoying when an umpire changes the game on a borderline call.

Padilla's first balk was questionable at best. He stopped in his stretch as much as any other pitcher in the majors does, yet it was a balk. But with one out and only moving the runner to second no real harm was done.

It was the second balk call that seemed utterly unbelievable. Alex Rodriguez appeared to have called time out and Fletcher stood up behind home plate so Padilla stepped off the rubber.

First base umpire Alfonzo Marquez called a balk, this time sending the runner home. Of course as a pitcher you shouldn't step off the mound unless you do it with the correct foot or the umpire has his hands raised. But standing up from the crouch behind the catcher has the same effect.

And then in the bottom half of that inning Ian Kinsler hit a ball that barely made it past the plate, but home plate umpire Fletcher called it fair and Kinsler was out, at the time. Then the umpires got together and changed the call to a foul ball.

After seeing the replay a few times that appeared to be the correct call. But how did an another umpire at least 90 feet away notice that better than the guy less than five feet away?

Umpires don't need to be traded in for the best available computer technology, but there has to be a way to make them better.