Yes, yes, the title’s joke writes itself. Of course I am not seriously suggesting that the way to improve the quality of umpiring at the major league level is simply to feed the poorest ones to season ticket holders in the Diamond Club seats. (Even though Cowboy Joe West, properly prepared, might be able to pass for chūtoro sushi.)
No, what I would like to do is put forth an option which...
- creates jobs
- retains the Human Element which is so prized in baseball umpiring specifically and baseball overall
- provides accountability and redundancy
- limits the ability of one umpire with a bad day to give either left-handed batters specifically or noble batsmen in general a right good rogering
- still preserves the pace and camaraderie of the game we love so much
I realize this may look quite daunting, but the approach quickly becomes easy to understand. Observe.
In keeping with baseball tradition, the number of umpires surrounding the plate is the very special number of 9. For starters, each umpire is responsible for policing the conduct of one member of each team's lineup, corresponding to batting order. This means that, for example, Home Plate Umpire 3 can, at their discretion, warn and/or remove from the game whoever is batting third in the lineup for the visiting and away teams. The first and third base umpires would be in charge of the home and away dugouts and bullpens, if not already covered by one of the home plate umpires The second base umpire oversees the current pitcher of record, coaching staff and miscellaneous fans. (The mascots, as ever, must be left alone. Do not interfere with mascots. DO NOT. INTERFERE. WITH THE MASCOTS.)
Anyway. I digress.
The blue circle represents the catcher, i.e. Glovey McStopStop. He (and it is always a "he") may communicate with any umpire in the course of normal play, so long as he is asking the correct question of the correct umpire per their jurisdiction. Asking a question of the wrong umpire awards the pitching team a balk.
Umpire #1 is positioned to the left of the righthanded batter's box, in a line with the front of the box. His job is to monitor the swings of lefthanded hitters, and determine whether they checked their swing or not. Secondarily, they also arbitrate whether a pitch is high or low, IF called upon by the Inner Circle (see umpires 5 - 9).
Umpire #2 is positioned to the right of the lefthanded batter's box, in a line with the front of the box. His job is the mirror of umpire #1, except for righthanded hitters.
Umpire #3 is fleet of foot and keen of eye. A lithe tracker by nature, his job is to determine fair or foul down the left field line. This is accomplished by assuming a runner's starting position approximately 9 feet away from the foul line, in an imaginary line roughly aligned with the catcher's feet.
At the crack of the bat, they must proceed at best possible speed down the foul line following the path of the baseball, until such time as it is either caught in the air or has rolled fair/foul on the ground. If they sound their portable air horn, the ball is FAIR. If they sound it twice, the ball is FAIRLY CAUGHT BY A FIELDER and the batter is OUT. Secondarily, they also determine whether lefthanded batters are showing up the Inner Circle (see umpires 5-9).
Umpire #4 performs the same functions as umpire #3, except in mirror image for the right field line. Their secondary job is similar, except for righthanded batters. Additionally, they bring the juice boxes.
THE INNER CIRCLE
Only umpires with veteran status (i.e. anyone who has ejected more than 9 players, coaches and/or fans from major league games) may participate as one of these highly important positions.
Umpire #5 is the righthand batter Primary Umpire. He works in concert with the Righty Strike Umpire (see umpire #7) to determine the strike zone and otherwise perform the home plate umpire duties for righthanded batters. He is positioned back and to the left of the catcher, just barely out of his line of sight, but just close enough to provoke unease. If an inside pitch that does not first hit the ground, hits Umpire #5, the umpire is HBP and awarded first base. A reserve umpire from the Umpire's Bench immediately replaces him.
Umpire #6 contributes as umpire #5, but for lefthanded batters. He collaborates with the Lefty Strike Umpire (see umpire #8) to ensure that these freaks of nature never get a hit again. Pardon. I mean, to enforce a strike zone for lefthanded batters that is - as is tradition - an area that is defined as the letters of the jersey to the back of the knees in height, and the right edge of the plate to halfway into the goddamned righthanded batter's box in width.
Umpire #7 determines what an outside strike is for righthanded hitters. He confirms the calls of umpire #5, working together with umpires 1 and 3. In the event of a tie between the 4 umpires, he defers to umpire #9. If the catcher wishes to confirm or appeal the decision of umpire #5, he must address umpire #7, directly, solely and reverentially.
Umpire #8 performs the functions of umpire #7, but for lefthanded batters. His confirmation jurisdiction is the even numbered umpires: 2, 4 and especially that crafty lefty #6.
The Umphatic, i.e. umpire #9, rules the baseball diamond with an iron fist, yet in the modern way. And by in the modern way, I mean by committee and slowly. He is the tiebreaker for all appeals. He receives the lineup cards and offerings of wine and honeydew at the beginning of each game. He alone can tame the Mascot. He verifies each baseball before allowing umpire 6 or 8 to hand a fresh ball to the catcher. He is the final arbiter, period, bar none, end of story.
In the event that he is called upon to break a tie amongst the Inner Circle, or any other combination of umpires, yet cannot do so, or just doesn't really feel like it, he is the only official on the field that can contact Umpsilon Prime. Umpsilon Prime is the instant replay center stationed in low earth orbit, geosynchronous with New York City. Instant replay review is available for most plays and must not take more than 20 minutes.
As you can see, with a clear chain of command, sharply delineated and greatly reduced duties, multiple layers of redundancy, and 9 umpires no more than 10 feet from home plate, we could - modestly, if by no other reason than sheer statistical probability - increase our chances of perhaps getting some kind of frickin normal strike zone.
Thank you for attending to Your Humble Servant's proposal.