I read a story this week that makes me uncomfortable.
Researchers at Southern Methodist University recently examined the QuesTec pitch-monitoring results for the five seasons between 2004-2008, a total of 3.5 million pitches. If you're not familiar with QuesTec, it's the in-stadium gear that's come under great criticism by the umpire's union. The QuesTec device essentially provides a cross-checking system within the strike zone; it grades an umpire's ability to correctly call balls and strikes, something that umpires feel is an invasion of privacy, or some such nonsense.
Anyway, SMU's researchers matched up the QuesTec data with demographic data about who is pitching and who is umpiring, and their conclusion was not one to trumpet in a positive way:
Ethnicity apparently plays a rather obvious role in those decisions.
SMU found that home plate umpires call a disproportionately higher number of strikes for pitchers in their same ethnic group. Johan Sulaeman, a study author and a financial economist at SMU, says the finding builds on an earlier study that discovered MLB's home plate umps called strikes more often for pitchers in their same ethnic group - except when the plate was electronically monitored by cameras.
The study controlled for inning, pitch count, pitcher score advantage and whether the pitcher was playing at home or visiting. If you tend to dismiss studies like this - for whatever reason - I'd strongly suggest you look at the SMU.edu Web site and see just how specific the study really was.
So, what should MLB do in the wake of these results? Just a guess, but I'm sure they'll do something, and I'm equally sure we'll never hear a word about it, since that kind of thing is never announced in a press release. Umpires are routinely evaluated annually. Some get replaced, but you never hear it. you'll just notice the following year that a few new umpires have been hired, but never a mention in the "Transactions" column in your local paper the way you'll see that some player has been released or waived.
The SMU study doesn't single out any individual umps, but you can be sure the current pitchers of color know exactly who they are.