Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Umpire Was Blind! by Jonathan Weeks (VBT, guest post, excerpt, and GIVEAWAY) GFT

It is my pleasure to share a guest post by author Jonathan Weeks, who discusses...

Jonathan Weeks

            During Spring Training of 1950, Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey introduced an electronic umpire to the team’s Vero Beach training camp. Rickey had no intention of replacing umpires with machines. He saw the innovation as more of a teaching tool. But the implication was clear.
            …That automatons could do an equivalent if not better job than the men in blue.
            Skipping straight to the epilogue, Rickey’s machine never caught on. Still, the argument has persisted to the present day. In 2016, an episode of the HBO series, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, helped bolster the popular belief that umpires—particularly those behind home plate—are incompetent. After analyzing roughly a million major league pitches over a three and a half year period, Yale Professor Toby Moskowitz told Real Sports reporter Jon Frankel that more than 30,000 erroneous ball/strike calls are made each season for an overall accuracy rate of eighty-eight percent.
            …Not an especially impressive number to say the least.
            Writing for the Kansas City Star in 2017, journalist Lee Judge groused about a blown call made by home plate umpire Marty Foster in a game between the Royals and Twins. In many televised games, networks superimpose computerized graphics on the screen so fans at home can see which pitches land within the strike zone. These graphics are generally considered to be extremely accurate. Analyzing the network data, Judge determined that Foster missed thirteen calls during the game, including a critical one that should have given the Royals their second out of the ninth inning.
            Commenting on computerized strike zones, Chicago TV producer Marc Brady said: “Humans have bad days. Computers don’t. Maybe the sun angle affects the umpire’s view of a pitch…or maybe he’s just freezing and wants to go home. A computer has nowhere to go.” Thinking along those lines, former major leaguer Eric Byrnes pondered: “Why do millions of people sitting at home get to know whether or not it’s a ball or strike, yet the poor dude behind home plate is the one who’s left in the dark?”
            Why indeed?
            Well, the answer is rather complex. Aside from the fact that baseball is a sport steeped in tradition, there are other obvious reasons. Not everyone supports the idea of an automated strike zone. Multimedia sports personality Joe Giglio cautioned that: “As with any technological advancement, it could come with issues. If the strike zone was ‘off’ or malfunctioned, baseball would either have to empower the umpire to make the correct call or deal with the missed pitches.” Former National League umpire Harry Wendelstedt went one step further, proposing humorously: “If they did get a machine to replace [umpires], you know what would happen to it? Why, the players would bust it to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a bat.”
            With offense on the decline and strikeouts dramatically on the rise in the majors, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an arrangement with the independent Atlantic League to implement various experimental changes. In addition to moving the pitching rubber back from its standard sixty-feet, six-inch placement, Atlantic League president Rick White agreed to begin using “robot umpires” during the 2019 season.
             The so-called “robo-umps” don’t look anything like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the Terminator movies. The technology is actually known as TrackMan. It’s a 3D Doppler radar system that precisely measures the location, trajectory and spin rate of hit and pitched baseballs. The device can be precisely aligned to the strike zone to determine balls and strikes. Most major league parks already have the devices in place, though they have mostly been used for coaching and scouting purposes.
            After a series of questionable calls in the 2019 World Series, Commissioner Manfred announced that the electronic strike zone would be used on an experimental basis in selected minor league ballparks during the 2020 campaign. In particular, the Class-A Florida State League was mentioned as a possible setting. The MLB Umpires Association officially agreed to cooperate with the development and testing of the technology in conjunction with a new five-year labor contract. 
            No matter how the experiment turns out, the fact of the matter is that home plate umpires (in some capacity) are likely here to stay. And it’s difficult not to sympathize with them given the demanding nature of their jobs. According to retired American League arbiter Nestor Chylak, officials are expected to “be perfect on the first day of the season and then get better every day.” Adhering to an extremely convoluted rulebook, they make hair-trigger decisions knowing that their calls will affect the fortunes of the players and teams involved.
            Despite their imperfections, umpires have played a vital role in the game’s history. Former major league commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti described the public perception of umpires in figurative terms: “Baseball fits America well because it expresses our longing for the rule of law while licensing our resentment of law givers.” That resentment has flourished for a very long time.
            Whether we sympathize with them or not, it is an irrefutable fact that the decisions of umpires have dramatically altered the fabric of baseball history. In the heat of the moment, mistakes are often made. And the consequences of these mistakes have been monumental at times.           


by Jonathan Weeks


GENRE:   Sports history/biography



In the words of former American League umpire Nestor Chylak, umpires are expected to “be perfect on the first day of the season and then get better every day.” Forced to deal with sullen managers and explosive players, they often take the blame for the failures of both. But let’s face it—umpires are only human.

For well over a century, the fortunes of Major League teams—and the fabric of baseball history itself—have been dramatically affected by the flawed decisions of officials. While the use of video replay in recent decades has reduced the number of bitter disputes, many situations remain exempt from review and are subject to swirling controversy. In the heat of the moment mistakes are often made, sometimes with monumental consequences.




…“The Streak” was in serious jeopardy on multiple occasions. In fact, DiMaggio extended it during his final plate appearance nearly a dozen times. But never was he more in danger of losing it than on June 10 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. After a pair of groundouts and an infield pop-up, the Yankee icon came to bat in the seventh inning against right-hander Johnny Rigney, who was one of Chicago’s top hurlers in those days. DiMaggio smashed a sizzling grounder to third, where the sure-handed Dario Lodigiani was stationed. “Lodi” could only block it with his body, but he recovered in time to nail the Yankee centerfielder at first by a quarter of a step. Fortunately for DiMaggio, first base umpire Steve Basil saw things differently, making a “safe” call on the play.

Basil, who had turned to umpiring after his playing career stalled out at the Class-D level, was in his sixth year of major league service. Though generally even-tempered, he was not afraid to assert his authority when his calls were held in question. Never was this more apparent than in June of 1938, when he tossed three members of the St. Louis Browns out of a game for arguing balls and strikes.

According to AL arbiter Joe Rue, Basil was a bit of a tattletale who was constantly trying to curry favor with MLB officials. In particular, he had established intimate relationships with umpire supervisor Tommy Connolly and AL president William Harridge. “Basil was always playing up to Connolly,” Rue asserted bitterly. “And he’d run to Connolly and Harridge with everything.”

There was no need to seek the counsel of league officials on the date in question. In fact, the White Sox hardly protested at all as DiMaggio’s streak was extended to twenty-five games. Basil’s call proved to be of monumental importance when Joe D. grounded into a double play in his final at-bat of the day. Had Basil made the correct decision, “The Streak” would have been divided into two roughly equal halves—impressive, for sure, but not exactly the stuff that legends are made of.

The events of July 17, 1941, have attained an almost mythical quality. DiMaggio had pushed his streak to fifty-six games and was on his way to Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium in a cab when the driver, recognizing the iconic outfielder and his teammate Lefty Gomez, said ominously: “I got a feeling if you don’t get a hit in your first at-bat today, they’re going to stop you.” (Several versions of the quote exist) Flabbergasted, Gomez snapped: “Who the hell are you? What’re you trying to do—jinx him?”

…Gomez might have been on to something.

The jinx appeared in the form of Indians third baseman Ken Keltner, who made a pair of spectacular stops to rob DiMaggio. “The Streak” ended that day and “Joltin’ Joe” hit safely in his next 16 games. Many years after the fact, he claimed to have had an encounter with the mysterious Cleveland cab driver. “Now this is thirty years later,” DiMaggio asserted. “He apologized and was serious. I felt awful. He might have been spending his whole life thinking he had jinxed me, but I told him he hadn’t. My number was up.”


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Weeks spent most of his life in the Capital District region of New York State. He earned a degree in psychology from SUNY Albany. In 2004, he migrated to Malone, NY. He continues to gripe about the frigid winter temperatures to the present day. He has published several books on the topic of baseball. He would have loved to play professionally, but lacked the talent. He still can't hit a curve ball or lay off the high heat. In the winter months, he moonlights as a hockey fan.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

The tour dates can be found here


  1. Thanks so much for hosting my tour! I really appreciate it. I enjoy interacting with readers and try to answer any questions, so feel free to ask.

  2. I love the cover. Congrats o the release

    1. Thanks! I was really happy with the way the cover turned out.

  3. Thank you so much for taking time to bring to our attention another great read.   I appreciate it and thank you also for the giveaway. 

    1. I see you've been following me throughout this tour, James. Thanks. It's much appreciated.

  4. Great excerpt, I enjoyed reading it!

  5. I liked the excerpt, sounds good.

  6. Thank you for sharing an excerpt, I liked it

  7. i know i have blurted things out and wondered where in the world it came from. i can see how it's easy to blurt out safe when they're out, etc...but there must be a way to stop the big, obvious ones from getting away. robots? hmmmm.....
    sherry @ fundinmental

  8. That's an interesting thing to imagine. I mean robots are doing all sorts of things now.