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Sports

Taking a swing at the checked swing debate

Chris Walker
Chris Walker

Umpire calls are scrutinized now more than ever before. And it’s yet another reason why there’s a shortage of umpires.

Remember Kyle Schwarber’s game-ending strikeout in the Cubs’ recent loss to the Los Angeles Angels?

How many times have you seen the replay? Read stories? Heard sports radio hosts and callers moan about it? All because third-base umpire Gabe Morales determined that Schwarber attempted to hit the ball.

Now some high school baseball and softball players, coaches and parents will seethe in anger when an umpire rules a swing because Joe Maddon doesn’t believe umpires should be allowed to make that call. Well, at least not human ones. Apparently he’s all for R2-D2 droid-speaking that Kyle did whiff. And although RoboCop would be impressive as one of us, since they go cheap in paying umpires, they’ll probably hire Vicki from “Small Wonder” since she hasn’t worked since 1989.

Thankfully, I don’t think you’ll ever see Vicki or Mr. Roboto making such calls on the high school circuit. Domo arigato.

It doesn’t help that many of the baseball broadcasters don’t know the rules. It’s worse yet when they say stupid, incorrect things. No, the hands are not part of the bat. No, the home-plate umpire shouldn’t stand directly behind the catcher. No, the rules don’t say a darn thing about a “checked” swing.

Imagine that. Complaining about a rule that doesn’t even exist!

Rule 7-2-1B states that a strike occurs when the pitch is “struck at and missed” by the batter, but it doesn’t say anything about a full swing, checked swing or how far the bat must go to be called a swing.

And therein lies the problem as umpires are asked to be objective about something that’s subjective because of its ambiguity.

So determining if a batter stopped his swing to allow the ball to pass without attempting to hit it is one of the hardest rulings for an umpire to make.

In his book “The Umpire Strikes Back,” late MLB umpire Ron Luciano said the human eye can’t register a checked swing.

“The slow-motion tape will show that he actually spun around twice, made a bank deposit and renewed his driver’s license before drawing back his bat,” he wrote. “I would always guess on the half-swing, figuring I’d have a 50-50 chance of getting it right.”

Some may argue that the strike rule needs to be amended to address this. Maybe. I certainly would be welcome to a discussion. If there’s something that could be done that improves the game, go ahead and crow hop and fire those thoughts my way.

Just don’t be like Bobby. Former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, who I should appreciate simply because of the time he got ejected and then sneaked back into the dugout in a disguise, said any time a batter starts and attempts to stop his swing it should be called a ball. That way the offense will get a boost.

There certainly must be better ideas.

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