Walk out onto a baseball field and touch the strike zone. I dare you. Touch it. Yeah, you can touch home plate but that is not the strike zone. You can wave your hand through the air above the plate and maybe your hand is in the strike zone, maybe not. You'd have to know the height of the strike zone for a particular batter. And you still would not be touching it.
The strike zone is more concept than reality. Yet, the people who get most upset about the integrity of the game, especially concerning performance enhancing stuff, remain oblivious to a problem at the heart of the game: calling balls and strikes.
As mentioned in the previous post, some catchers are now lauded for their ability to deceive the plate umpire into calling pitches outside the strike zone strikes. This is worthy of praise? Doesn't it suggest even more of a problem than we had previously thought? Some people take comfort because the plate umpire may seem to correctly call balls and strikes more often than thought, as if anything less than 100% were acceptable.
Yeah, human error is part of the game, part of its charm. Tell that to your doctor when he/she screws up your surgery. To err is human, doc. Its OK that you gutted me like a pig.
The solution is not more cameras and computers. The solution is common sense, which was missing at the creation in three fundamental ways, which have been and will continue to be addressed in this blog:
1. non-uniform playing areas, made increasingly significant around 1920, with the advent of modern home run hitting;
2. lefty batters getting an extremely unfair advantage by having their batters box significantly closer not only to first base but to all the bases, thus making it easier for lefties to not only get singles but also doubles and triples;
3. imaginary strike zone, which changes for each batter.
Here are the unifying rule changes that fix the strike zone:
1. Eliminate the catching position and move that player into fair territory.
2. Extend foul territory 45 feet from home plate towards first and third base with a quarter circle curved line.
3. Base runners may not leave the base until the ball is hit.
4. Move the plate umpire behind the pitcher.
5. Place a round target about 20 inches in diameter behind home plate with the top no higher than the batter's shoulders and the bottom no lower than the batter's knees at the batter's preference; if the pitch hits the target, it's a strike.
Now you have a simple low tech strike zone that can be implemented at all levels of play. I envision the target being placed on a simple stand such that it can be raised and lowered by the batter quickly and simply at the start of each plate appearance. It must remain in the same position for the duration of the plate appearance.
Obviously, in addition to now having a fool proof strike zone there are these benefits:
1. No player is submitted the humiliation and physical abuse and danger of the catching position.
2. No umpire is submitted the physical abuse of standing behind the plate.
3. The pitcher can use one throwing motion because there is no need to "hold" the base runners close to the bases.
4. The game should speed up significantly: no signs, no meetings, at least not with the catcher.
5. Bunting, if not eliminated, will be greatly reduced.
6. By eliminating the corners of the rectangular strike zone, pitchers will be more likely to just throw the ball right down Broadway at the heart of the target, the bull's eye.
Baseball people, including fans, instinctively oppose any change, especially change that makes a lot of sense. Some of the fundamental principles of opposing change:
1. They didn't think of it over 100 years ago.
2. It will mess up the stats.
3. It cannot possibly work because it is different from everything in human history.
I envision the mound umpire having about ten baseballs in his/her possession and simply handing a ball to the pitcher before each pitch. Replenishment would be as it is now.
Ball boys and girls would remove a loose ball after each pitch if the ball has not been put into play. You know, like they've been doing in tennis matches for decades. The batter can help out by kicking a nearby ball towards a ball attendant.
Oh, and about that charming and unique rule of each batter having the strike zone vary with the batter's stance: why is the personal strike zone fitted vertically but not horizontally? And why haven't traditionalists ever considered that?
So, what do you think? Has your head exploded? Have you cried: he blasphemes!?
Take a deep breath and just admit that this is how it should have been from the beginning and that baseball should implement these fundamental improvements ASAP. It's never too late.