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Q&A: Centerfield TV cameras are slightly off center

Umpires are monitored daily, with a general analysis of all umps the end of the season.

Associated Press

Umpires are monitored daily, with a general analysis of all umps the end of the season.

Game camera slightly off center

When I'm watching a baseball game on TV, the camera from centerfield sometimes shows pitches that are clearly strikes called balls and ones that are clearly balls called strikes. What's going on?

Sometimes you might see an umpire with a slightly different strike zone than another, and umpires occasionally miss pitches.

But it's much more likely that what you're seeing is a product of the placement of the camera.

Nearly all baseball stadiums, including the Tampa Bay Rays' Tropicana Field, have their centerfield TV cameras 10 to 15 degrees to the leftfield side, or to the right if you were sitting in true centerfield and looking toward home plate, and 10 to 30 feet above the field. That offset positioning means TV viewers are getting a slightly distorted sense of where a pitch is when it crosses the plate, and how much the pitch moves.

According to Slate magazine, the practice of positioning cameras slightly offset in centerfield began in the 1950s when NBC producer Harry Coyle got the idea after watching a game in which the umpire stood directly behind the pitcher's mound instead of behind the catcher.

A true centerfield camera would have to be positioned higher, maybe 45 feet or more above the field, to avoid the pitcher blocking the TV view and to not distract the batter's view of the ball from the pitcher. It would improve a viewer's vision of where the ball crosses the plate but it would also slightly distort the ball's precise location at the top and bottom of the strike zone.

To see videos that demonstrate the difference between the slightly offset and true centerfield cameras, see www.slate.com/id/2221384/.

Reviewing umpires

Do baseball umpires receive official feedback on mistakes they make during the course of a game?

Umpiring is monitored on a daily basis by Major League Baseball, which maintains a staff of seven supervisors and a network of field observers to keep tabs on performance. About 55 percent of all games are graded on-site by an MLB official, and Mike Port, MLB's vice president of umpiring, reviews controversial plays the following day.

Those reviews are passed on to the individual umpiring crews. A general analysis of all umps is made at the end of the season and those with the highest marks are rewarded with postseason assignments, according to MLB. Umps may be reprimanded or fined for critical mis-calls, but those measures are never announced.

But suspensions are made public. Umpire Mike Winters, for instance, was suspended the final week of the 2007 season for a confrontation with Milton Bradley, then playing for San Diego.

In general, MLB gives itself high marks for umpiring. Citing MLB's "2006 Umpiring Year in Review," Sports Illustrated reported umps were wrong on just 100 calls in 2,429 games that season.

Q&A: Centerfield TV cameras are slightly off center 08/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 10:55am]
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