Friday, September 30, 2011

Baseball and the Study of Institutional Racism

People may not realize how instrumented the modern MLB ballpark can be.  QuesTec, a company that provides the Umpire Information System at several MLB parks, collectes statistical information on every pitch thrown.  Now, scientists at Southern Methodist University have analyzed these piles of data and come to a startling conclusion: Race plays a statistically significant part in the calls of balls and strikes. David Sirota reports.
Today, Major League Baseball games using the QuesTec computerized pitch-monitoring system are the most statistically quantifiable workplaces in America. Match up QuesTec’s accumulated data with demographic information about who is pitching and who is calling balls and strikes, and you get the indisputable proof of how ethnicity does indeed play a part in discretionary decisions of those in power positions.

[H]ome-plate umpires call disproportionately more strikes for pitchers in their same ethnic group. Because most home-plate umpires are white, this has been a big form of racial privilege for white pitchers, who researchers show are, on average, getting disproportionately more of the benefit of the doubt on close calls.

“[M]inority pitchers reacted to umpire bias by playing it safe with the pitches they threw in a way that actually harmed their performance and statistics.” Basically, these hurlers adjusted to the white umpires’ artificially narrower strike zone by throwing pitches down the heart of the plate, where they were easier for batters to hit.

[T]he data suggest that racial bias is probably operating at a subconscious level, where the umpire doesn’t even recognize it.
I suppose it was foolish to believe that it could be any other way.  Racism is in our cultural DNA.

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