QuesTec

Get it?

In 2001, QuesTec signed a 5-year deal with Major League Baseball to begin using a pitch-tracking system to grade umpires on how they call balls and strikes. Before this, QuesTec had mainly been a audio/visual company that focused on graphics and broadcast presentation, but it decided to delve a bit further. After the contract expired, the MLB has annually renewed the contract to keep QuesTec in ballparks.

The system works like this. There are four cameras. Two sit way up in the upper deck to track the direction and curvature of the pitch. Two other ones sit at field level and measure the hitter’s strike zone on each pitch. When a pitch is thrown, it is recorded and evaluated. After the entire game and season are complete, the umpires can then be evaluated. Just to make sure we all understand one of the most overlooked, or at least misunderstood rules of the game, this is the official rule concerning the strike zone.

Obviously, this caused immediate tension between the umpires and Major League Baseball. The owners wanted a stricter strike zone. The umpires believed the system wouldn’t judge the umpries fairly because it couldn’t be accurate. Players also stepped in (well, at least the pitchers). Pitchers were used to getting certain calls, and they feared the umpires would go so far to please the system that they would cheat the pitchers (though not really intentionally).

So, the sides went to battle … literally. Curt Schilling, although famous for many things, became famous for taking a baseball bat to a QuesTec camera after a rough outing in which he thought he was being squeezed. Sandy Alderson repeated that the system was not to take away strikes. It was to make sure the calls were correct (very similar to the recent situation with instant replay, but let’s not get into that). QuesTec cameras were not going away, so the sides came to an agreement.

In December of 2004, the umpires, QuesTec, and Major League Baseball met to settle the disagreements. If the umpire meets the standard set by QuesTec, there are no problems. If the umpire fails, then another manner of evalutation will be used, most likely by videotape or other umpires supervising. Also, the umpires received a 5% pay raise from the $340,000 salary they had made. By the end of the 2005 season, the struggle was over, and the umpires dropped their appeal, effectively instituting QuesTec.

After several seasons of evaluations, the system appears to have been successful. Umpires are grading better, games aren’t slowing down, and performance has not diminished in QuesTec parks. However, only nine stadiums have QuesTec cameras:

Angel Stadium
Chase Field
Fenway Park
Progressive Field
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Miller Park
Minute-Maid Park
Tropicana Field
US Cellular Field

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