Friday, August 12, 2011

Umpire Odds & Ends: An Analysis of the Strike Three Mechanic

Earlier this season, we asked about umpire strike three calls; specifically, "Which umpire has the best called strike and/or strike three mechanic?"In Polls: Strike Mechanic, 38% of voters chose Tom Hallion's athletic, back torquing twist & yowl. In second place, 13% chose Dale Scott's subtle and cadenced thwack, followed by 12% for Jim Joyce's consistent verbalization of... something, 11% for James Hoye, and rounding out the top five was a tie at 7% between CB Bucknor and Mike Winters (to see the winners' mechanics, click here).

Seems the UEFL isn't the only place out there interested in the art of "strike three." UEFL'er Troy sent us an article from the Wall Street Journal, which, as you might expect, took a very analytical approach to the strike three call.
"It's kind of like a pitcher's signature pitch," said New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey. "The strike-three call has always been the one thing the umpire can make his own."
The WSJ article features a superb graphical breakdown of four styles of strike three calls based on the likes of Bob Davidson (The Saturday Night Fever), Fieldin Culbreth (The Kung Fu Grip), Dan Iassogna (The Speed Skater), and Tom Hallion (The Tasmanian Devil). Split into three categories (side-puncher, middle-puncher, and wild card [for those who do not fit the side- or middle-puncher categories]), the WSJ placed all 68 full time umpires (including Todd Tichenor) into their corresponding strike three call category. In case you're wondering, yes, Tom Hallion fell under "wild card"; then again, so did Wally Bell with the note, "seemingly changes every game."
"Every time I see Tom I tell him, 'I will not have you go 'Hiii-Yahhhhhh' on me tonight, that's my goal," said San Diego Padres infielder Orlando Hudson, imitating the motion as he spoke. "He's got the best strike-three call in the game."
As it relates to our poll, after Tom Hallion's Wild Card tactic ("turns 135-degrees hard and makes explosive punch,"), Dale Scott is a side-puncher, as are Jim Joyce, James Hoye & CB Bucknor. Mike Winters is the only middle-puncher to make the top five (or top six). The article continues to discuss the challenges in developing mechanics and in finding a balance between standing out and standing out. All in all, another unique take on umpiring at the major league level.
On the other hand, umpires with dramatic strike-three calls constantly tread the murky water between showmanship and ridicule. Or, as big-league umpire Jeff Nelson put it, "There's a fine line between good taste and Leslie Nielsen," a reference to the late movie actor's turn as an overly exuberant umpire in "The Naked Gun."
News: Baseball's Masked Men Show Their Inner Hams on Strike Three by Jared Diamond, Wall Street Journal Online 


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