Major-league umpires are in no danger of being replaced by machines, but they clearly feel threatened by the system that has been employed by Major League Baseball to evaluate their performance behind the plate.
The World Umpires Association has filed two grievances against management related to the QuesTec Umpire Evaluation System (UIS) that has been installed at several major-league ballparks and enlisted a panel of scientists to evaluate it.
The dispute is part of a long-running feud between the umpires and owners over the standardization of the strike zone - a feud that dates back to several skirmishes between the commissioner's office and the now-decertified Major League Baseball Umpires Association over who really decides what's a ball and what's a strike.
The QuesTec UIS is an attempt by management to bring an objective measure to the evaluation of umpire performance, but the umpires have long questioned the accuracy of "eye in the sky" cameras and other methods of second-guessing the judgment of the home plate umpires.
The union filed a grievance against Major League Baseball for using QuesTec UIS for umpire evaluation rather than training, and a second grievance for failing to provide the umpires with scientific data about the system.
Management officials, who have been somewhat preoccupied with the collective bargaining dispute with the Major League Baseball Players Association, want to analyze the information after the season.
The union announced yesterday that, in the interim, it has brought together a group of seven professors and researchers from various fields of applied science to analyze the QuesTec system.
"Umpires are part of baseball's tradition," said union president John Hirschbeck in a statement. "Our independence is central to the integrity of the game. No one should interject into the game a system that has not been scientifically verified. This is a matter of man against the machine."
The panel will be headed by Yale University Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert Kemp Adair, the author of The Physics of Baseball.
The umpires also have recruited Dr. Lawrence Carlin of Duke University, an expert on electrical engineering; Dr. John P. Carini, physics professor at Indiana University; Dr. Richard Fitzpatrick of the Institute of Fusion Studies at the University of Texas; Dr. Ernest C. Hammond, physics professor at Morgan State University; Dr. Grant Secrist, formerly of Southern Utah University; and Dr. James E. Whitney II, the head of the Signal and Sensors Laboratory at Morgan State.