Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Called Strike in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

For all the other changes that have taken place in baseball in the last decade, there is one aspect of the game that has reached dizzying new frontiers and gone relatively unnoticed: namely the ability to know for sure weather or not any given pitch was actually a strike or a ball. Previously, a pitch existed only in the moment in which it was thrown and the only mark that it left was the call made by the umpire-- now nearly every pitch made in baseball is recorded and subject to the scrutiny, not only of fans and announcers, but also of players, coaches and umpires who look at tape for a greater understanding of the game.

In terms of the actual ramifications of this new knowledge, perhaps the most practical implication is the use of the QuesTec system in certain ballparks (of which Shea is one). However, it seems that the televised replay becoming an increasingly prominent feature in more and more fans experience of the game should probably be regarded as the frontier on which this change began. With evidence to back them up, announcer’s claims that the home team was being victimized by the umpire lost their air of paranoia; and the fact that any fan watching on television could tell that the umpire did not constitute an absolutely irrefutable and impartial source of judgment, was probably what lead MLB to the QuesTec experiment.

It is important to keep in mind that the QuesTec system makes no changes in the game in real time. It only records the way in which umpires interact with the strike zone, and forces them to take that information into account the next time that they call a game.

And, while many pitchers claim to be victimized (good ol’ Curt Schilling once smashed a QuesTec camera with a bat), the relatively un-invasive way in which this information has been assimilated into the game constitutes a rare instance of Major League Baseball clearly understanding the somewhat complex ideas behind the basic realities of the sport. Specifically, strikes come into existence only by being called by an umpire. The location, in actual space, of a pitch has nothing to do with the call; the only important thing about a pitch is the impression that it makes on the umpire (ahem, Paul Lo Duca). The activity called “pitching” can only be said to take place in the presence of an umpire to call strikes—otherwise, one is just throwing a ball.

The images that they show us then, the stopped frame showing the birds eye view of the batter with the little blur of the ball clearly hovering an inch or so on the outside of the plate, are lies. Or perhaps, they are merely a record of nothing, ghosts of a moment that persist in a feeble contradiction of the truth.

1 comment:

Mary said...

that was a great!