DENVER - Thursday, home plate umpire Mike Winters made a laughing stock of the first couple of innings between the Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals.
According to Pitch F/X, he called 10 pitches inside the strike zone as balls for Antonio Senzatela in just the first two innings. After that, the strike zone became a kind of impressionist painting made up more of colors than forms.
It was just the latest example in a long line showing that human beings should not be calling balls and strikes. Is it because they are biased? Is it totally subconscious? Do they really believe that rookies have to "earn" certain calls? Is it because it's just too damn hard? Take your pick. But the time has come.
If you would like to hear and audio rant of the following, please click on the bottom.
First, let's deal in facts. The defenders of bad umpires and officials of all stripes have a consistent box of tricks they dip into when stuff like this happens so let's get the two big ones out of the way by looking at the facts of the case:
That is embarrassingly bad. Or, at least, we would know if MLB was at all embarrassed by this if any part of their review process was public. Players, coaches and GMs have to face the press every day, and fans get to spout their opinions on each of those quotes, but umpires have the forever-blanket-of-security that is anonymity.
If a ballplayer had a game that bad, fans would be calling for him to be cut, or traded or sent down. Coaches and GMs would have their jobs called into question as well. But umpires get to hide behind a series of excuses that include "you're probably just a homer" and "it didn't swing the game" and "they do better than anyone else would."
Again, that first one is taken care of by looking at measurable data points. (Come to think of it so is the last one but we will get back to that.)
Putting aside the absurdity of claiming that a single call can't change the outcome of a game -- especially when we often obsess over the single play that changes the outcome of a game -- that part really shouldn't matter. Umpires and referees should not be waiting for the happenstance of the next series of events to bail them out of the fact that they have provided an unfair advantage to one party or the other. In baseball, where there is no clock, every single ball and strike call has the potential to swing the outcome of a game. Even one that gets completely out of hand.
The Rockies didn't lose the game because of Mike Winters anymore than they lost the game because of Jordan Lyles. Both had very bad games, but it turns out, there are a lot of factors that go into winning and losing games at the highest level.
What Winters did today is painfully simple to explain; whether intentional or not, he provided an unfair playing field in a contest where fairness means everything.
And it's not because he is a bad guy, it's because he's human.
There are lots of problems in life, our families, politics, and, yes, sports, that we can't seem to solve because there isn't an obvious and apparent solution. But that's the most frustrating thing about human beings calling balls and strikes. We do have the perfect solution, or something way closer to it than what we have now. We have the capability to get the calls right almost 100 percent of the time. We just choose not to use it ... and why? We don't know. Because we can't ask the MLB Umpire's Union or any of its members any questions.