|Sunday, May 25
Updated: May 29, 12:11 PM ET
Schilling calls QuesTec system 'a joke'
PHOENIX -- Umpires who don't like the new electronic system that evaluates their calls on balls and strikes have gained an outspoken ally in Curt Schilling.
The Arizona ace got so fed up with the system Saturday night during his loss to the San Diego Padres that he smashed one of its cameras near the Diamondbacks' dugout.
"I said something to one of the umpires about it,'' Schilling said, "and he said 'Do us a favor and break the other one.'''
The QuesTec Umpire Evaluation System is installed at 13 ballparks, including Bank One Ballpark in Arizona. The umpire's union has filed a grievance against major league teams contending the system is inaccurate and varies greatly depending on the person operating it.
An arbitrator is to hear the grievance in early July.
"The QuesTec system in this ballpark is a joke,'' Schilling said. "The umpires have admitted it. They hate it. In the last three starts I've made here, multiple times umpires have said to the catcher, 'It's a pitch I want to call a strike but the machine won't let me.'''
A phone call seeking comment from Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations in the commissioner's office, was not returned.
Schilling is a perfectionist. He has every pitch he's ever thrown to a batter on video and he studies them for hours and hours before each start. He also has a book on every call he's seen an umpire make.
"As someone who relies on command and preparation and doing the things that I do to get ready for a ballgame, consistency is the most important thing in the world for me from an umpire,'' he said.
In a Feb. 14 letter to the World Umpires Association, baseball said umpires whose calls do not match Questec at least 90 percent of the time will be judged as not meeting standards.
In March, 47 of 68 umpires signed a statement expressing no confidence in the QuesTec system.
Umpire Mike Winters, part of the crew working the Arizona-San Diego series, acknowledged after Saturday night's game that the evaluation system is affecting games.
"Major league baseball wants to have everyone conform to the strike zone as this machine says it is,'' Winters said. "Everybody's working to try to do that. Borderline pitches, this machine says they're balls. If I call them a strike and the machine doesn't, I'm getting downgraded. I've got to worry about my own livelihood.''
Pitches on the corners might not get the benefit of the doubt they once did.
"In the old days, we were taught `Go get them. Call those pitches strikes,''' Winters said. "Today it's the exact opposite: 'Hey, if it's off the plate it's a ball. I don't care if it's a quarter-inch or an eighth-inch, it's a ball.' It goes against what we used to be taught, but major league baseball pays my salary, and they're the boss.''
In ballparks that don't have the system, umpires are apt to revert to calling balls and strikes the way they have for years.
"If I go to a park and I know it's not there, I'm certainly a little more relaxed,'' Winters said.
Schilling's road ERA in three starts this season is 1.96. In six starts at Bank One Ballpark, it's 4.39. He threw shutouts in his last two road appearances, then came home and had two similar outings that were far less effective.
Last Monday against San Francisco, he threw 121 pitches and lasted seven innings in a no-decision. He gave up three runs in seven innings of a 5-1 loss Saturday night, striking out 11 and throwing 126 pitches.
Arizona manager Bob Brenly thinks QuesTec creates inequality because it's not used in every park.
"They call balls and strikes differently in the ballparks where it's set up,'' Brenly said Sunday. "If the system is so good and the ball tracks so well, why do you need a ball-strike umpire? You could have a green light go on out on the scoreboard if it's a ball and a red light if it's a strike.
"The strike zone has always been very subjective, and the players know that going in. You put it up in a ballpark, and the umpires are calling what they think they're supposed to call. If you want a consistent strike zone, you've got to put QuesTec in all 30 ballparks.''
Catcher Rod Barajas said umpires often refer to the QuesTec monitoring.
"It's completely unfair to the umpires,'' Barajas said. "It puts so much more pressure on them to call pitches the way the machine wants them to call pitches. They can't be themselves back there, so now they're scared to pull the trigger.''
While Schilling was fuming, San Diego's Brian Lawrence was throwing a two-hitter Saturday night to snap the Padres' nine-game losing streak.
Schilling made sure he praised Lawrence's performance as he ripped the QuesTec surveillance.
"It's a drastically different way for me to pitch here. I've got to make adjustments,'' Schilling said. "Like I said, the kid pitched a phenomenal game and he obviously didn't have a problem with it, so I might be crying over spilled milk, but it's frustrating.''