SOUTH BEND, INDIANA—A recent survey published in The Atlantic found that more than 85% of parents sitting down the left-field line were confident they could see the strike zone better than the umpire.
A study done by ESPN in 2017 found similar results down the right-field line.
The survey used the verbal language of parents sitting beyond third-base to determine their stance on the umpire’s rulings. For example, if a parent would yell, “That wasn’t even close!” or, the classic, “did you blink?” then the surveyor would mark that the parent believed they could see more clearly.
On the other hand, anytime a parent would yell something like, “Nice call, ump! You got that one right!” the surveyor would score in favor of the calls being made.
When parents were silent and appeared to be enjoying themselves, the surveyor noted them as agreeing with the ump.
After watching 20 games in the spring of 2021, the data tallied 486 different sets of parents at the game. 418 times (or 86%), at least one of the parents commented that they could see better than the umpire. Parents who expressed their support of the umpires call tallied only one. In that instance, an older gentleman whose son had just struck out an opposing player complimented the ump by saying, ‘I knew you’d finally get one right!’
67 of the 486 parents, or just shy of 15%, came to the game and appeared relatively undisturbed by the umpire’s calls—as if they had no sense of their right to express their opinions for everyone to hear vocally.
One parent, Susan, who was confident she could see better than the umpire, was visibly upset after a particular call that looked, she later admitted after her boy’s team won, “close.” Asked how she could be so sure, from 200 feet away behind a chain-link fence while scrolling through Instagram, that she had a better look than the trained umpire standing within inches of the plate said, “I know how tall my son is, and that was way above his belt.”
When the surveyor explained that the top of the strike zone is between the shoulders and the top of the pants, not the belt, Susan paused for only a moment before explaining that when her son was up the last time, the ball bounced off the plate and it still called a strike.
It was never made clear if, on that particular pitch, her son might have swung.