June 28, 2008

Good batters at risk of Homers

Regardless of whether a home plate umpire has a secret passion to star before the home crowd (known as a Homer) or is simply making bad calls, as a batter, you have no time to whimper over spilled strikeouts.

Of course, the first time a home plate umpire calls you out on strikes on a pitch obviously outside the strike zone, you need to take that as a warning sign. For example, in the June 27 Cardinals/Royals game at Kauffman Stadium, Yadier Molina got called out looking at strike three on a ball low and outside. He cried a river back to the dugout, and rightfully so, but hopefully had shaken it off and went on with his next baseball task.

At that Molina-moment, the rest of the Cardinals' should've taken notice that the home plate umpire was either a) in need of thicker Coke bottle lenses, or b) was a Homer. Yet for the hitters that are good enough to be really tuned into what a ball and and a strike is, it is incredibly difficult to "go fishing" for a ball they've self-trained not to go after. In other words, the better batter you are, the more at risk you are to go down looking at a called third strike if ... the home plate umpire is inconsistent in his strike zone.

Worse, if the home plate umpire is indeed, a Homer, and you are a visiting batter, you're at high risk for the punch-out if your at-bat comes at a critical moment of the game, usually in the later innings when a potential rally is underway, or the tying or lead run is in scoring position, perhaps. And if you happen to be one of the visiting team's hitting stars, well, the Homer has you all lined up for his "inning in the sun" or "inning under the bright lights" if it's a night game.
One of the two scenarios occurred in the same ball game when Albert Pujols took a called third strike that had every appearance of being outside. Was Pujols a victim of his own refined knowledge of the strike zone, or a victim of the masked man? (And we're not talking about the catcher.)

Now it's not the policy of 4thebirds to shed tears all over the bleachers over an umpire's alleged poor skills or secret passions, but every level of baseball seems to have a few of these All-about-me types lurking in the potential turning points of baseball games. Given either aforementioned disposition, they might be better suited for politics.

A holler to all Homers: Go home!