Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Repositioning the Home Plate Umpire to Provide Enhanced Perceptual Cues and More Accurate Ball-Strike Judgments

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Repositioning the Home Plate Umpire to Provide Enhanced Perceptual Cues and More Accurate Ball-Strike Judgments

Article excerpt

In recent years, sport psychology researchers have given considerable attention to factors affecting the performance of baseball players and umpires. The primary focus of research on umpiring has been the evaluation of the accuracy of the ball and strike judgments of home plate umpires (e.g., Rainey, Larsen, & Stephenson, 1989). Researchers have also compared the judgments of professional umpires with those of nonumpires (Rainey, Larsen, Stephenson, & Coursey, 1989; Rainey, Larsen, & Williard, 1987).

Recently, we began to investigate the role of perceptual factors affecting umpires' judgment of the strike zone (Ford, Goodwin, & Richardson, 1996). In calling balls and strikes, umpires must judge a pitch moving toward home plate at a speed of 80-95 miles per hour that is also moving laterally (i.e., from left to right or vice versa) due to its spin and vertically due to gravitational attraction (Bahill & Karnavas, 1993). The critical factor in judging balls and strikes is determining the point a pitch has reached in its trajectory as it passes by home plate. Therefore, umpires would be most likely to err by judging a pitch before it has reached home plate or after it has already passed over home plate.

Our first study (Ford et al., 1996) compared the accuracy of ball and strike calls made from the traditional (i.e., prior to 1976) American League and National League home plate umpiring positions, which differ in the height and lateral position of the umpire behind home plate. Currently, all home plate umpires in professional baseball position themselves low behind the catcher (the traditional National League perspective) for protection against being struck by foul tips off the bat, with their head over the catcher's "inside" shoulder (the shoulder closer to the batter). In our analogue study, participants called the same videotaped pitches from the two different umpiring perspectives. We found that the umpiring position nearer the pitch location (e.g., the position nearer the outside corner for judging outside pitches or lower behind the strike zone for judging low pitches) produced an increased tendency to misjudge pitches as strikes when, in reality, the pitches had "tailed" off home plate or dropped below the level of the strike zone. It is extremely difficult for umpires to judge the distance of pitches coming directly toward them accurately because no useful binocular distance cues are available under such circumstances; even convergence of the eyes is unhelpful because of the speed at which a major league pitch travels (Braunstein, 1976; Bruce & Green, 1990). Thus, the umpire is limited to monocular cues, such as the changing size of the retinal image as the ball approaches (Bootsma & Peper, 1992; Regan, Beverly, & Cynader, 1979).

The information obtained regarding the relative strengths and weaknesses of the umpiring perspectives tested in that study led us to believe that, with additional data, we might be able to determine the optimal perceptual perspective for the home plate umpire. This article reports the results of a set of four studies that represents the next step in this process. Each study compared the home plate umpiring position employed in professional baseball today with one of four alternative perspectives, each of which was higher and farther from the center of home plate than the current perspective.

The alternative positions tested in the present study were as follows: Inside-Far (IF), in which the umpiring perspective was behind the line of the occupied (right-handed hitter's) batter's box: Inside-Near (IN), directly behind the inside corner of home plate; Outside-Near (ON), directly behind the outside corner; and Outside-Far (OF), behind the line of the unoccupied (i.e., left-handed hitter's) batter's box. based on our previous research, we hypothesized that a position higher and farther to one side or the other of home plate than the current position would provide a better perceptual perspective for viewing the strike zone because viewing the pitch from an angle enables umpires to utilize additional binocular cues for judging distance and motion (e. …

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