Study shows race and ethnicity influence umpires’ calls

AUBURN – According to a recent academic study, “Strike Three: Umpires’ Demand for Discrimination,” umpires are more likely to call strikes in favor of pitchers who share their race or ethnicity.

Researchers from Auburn University, the University of Texas at Austin and McGill University analyzed every pitch from three major league seasons between 2004 and 2006 to explore whether racial discrimination factors into umpires’ evaluation of players.

They found that a pitcher who shares the home plate umpire’s race or ethnicity receives more called strikes and improves his team’s chance of winning. The discrimination diminishes when scrutiny of umpire calls increases, as in the case of ballparks that utilize electronic monitoring systems; on counts of three balls or two strikes; or when the game is well-attended.

Co-author and AU assistant professor Michael Yates said that in baseball the umpire’s evaluation heavily influences the pitcher’s productivity and performance. During a typical game, umpires call about 75 pitches for each team. Throughout the season, they call about 400,000 pitches.

“These findings should not be viewed as an indictment of Major League umpires,” said Yates. “A subconscious preference for individuals like one’s self is prevalent throughout society. Moreover, our study highlights the finding that such bias can be mitigated through explicit monitoring of the officials.”

Outside the baseball diamond, this research has broad implications for the study of discrimination in labor economics. According to co-author Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas, Austin, the power to evaluate players’ performances disproportionately belongs chiefly to members of one group, white umpires, while negative calls particularly impact minority pitchers.

(Contributed by Dina Roberts.)

Contact: Michael Yates, (334) 663-8992, (yatesmc@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)