A Peak at the MLB Strike Zone

Michael BishopContributor INovember 7, 2008

As I waited through the unprecedented rain delay of Game Five of the 2008 World Series, I thought it would be interesting to visit a few of the rules that I have had questions about, particularly during the series.

First, I looked into the strike zone. Growing up playing Little League, I always knew the strike zone as being from the arm pits to the knees. Looking at the history of the strike zone, one can see that was a fair assumption.

In fact, prior to 1950, the rule was from the top of the shoulder to the knee caps. In 1950, it changed to the armpit. Prior to the 1963 season, a decision was made to change the strike zone back to the top of the shoulder. In 1969, it was changed back to the armpits.

One general caveat on all of this are the phrases “natural stance” and “usual stance.” What is interesting, and what I did not know, is that, in 1988, the upper part of the zone was changed from the armpit to mid point between the top of the shoulder and the top of the pants. This change seems a bit odd, as it becomes more subjective as to exactly where this midpoint is.

The last change to the rule was in 1996, when the zone was expanded to the bottom of the knee, versus the top where it was set in 1969.

What seems a bit vague in the rule is defining the width of the strike zone. The only real reference is that of “the space over home plate.” One could assume from that definition then that the ball need only cross some portion of the plate. That differs from my perception that it was where it crossed the plate.

All of that said, with the scrutiny of national TV and super slow-motion on high-definition, 50" TVs, I think MLB will have to seriously take another look at how strikes are being called, and who is doing it in the postseason.

The rule of the same umpires not doing the postseason two years in a row and the lack of a better transparent grading system on umpires need to be seriously revisited. If MLB wants to cash in on primetime TV revenue, then it is going to have to recognize the impact of said coverage.

Gone are the days of afternoon World Series games in which the umpire’s judgement is only scrutinized by a handful of players and coaches within a hundred yards and partisan fans sitting farther back who can be easily dismissed.

Though I’m not advocating the adoption of instant replay on balls and strikes, now that the league and umpire’s union opened the proverbial Pandora’s box, they need to get a grasp on this before it gives the game a black eye that doesn’t go away.