It's at the center of a high-profile dispute between Major
League Baseball and umpires and has drawn the ire of star pitchers, including
the Mets' Tom Glavine.
And yes, this computerized umpiring system has generated a debate about
nothing less than the soul of the game.
But behind all this fuss is a Long Island company with only two full-time
employees, a debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars, no headquarters, a stock
price that sells for a thousandth of a cent per share, and questions about its
If you're a baseball fan, no doubt you've heard of QuesTec, which has
installed a system in 10 major league ballparks - including Yankee and Shea
stadiums - that uses cameras and computers to evaluate umpires'
balls-and-strikes calls. Major League Baseball, which is using QuesTec's Umpire
Information System on a trial basis, defends it. Umpires and pitchers, such as
QuesTec camera in May), despise it. Many umpires see the device as an attempt
by Major League Baseball to second-guess them, while many pitchers have said
the technology will force umpires to change the way they call a game.
Glavine, for example, has argued that the system is unfair for two reasons:
It's in only a third of major league ballparks (instead of all or none), and
it affects finesse pitchers, who rely on location, more than power pitchers,
who rely on speed. Glavine and others have complained that the QuesTec system
has forced plate umpires to use narrower strike zones, which in turn affects
the way pitchers pitch.
The debate has left the company in a tight corner. It has put growth of its
business with Major League Baseball - which last year accounted for 95 percent
of income but now is about half - on hold while the league and its umpires
undergo arbitration hearings to determine how the QuesTec system should be
used. "This has been an overwhelming battle for us," said Ed Plumacher, 43, the
company's founder. "We feel like a pawn in a major dispute. Whenever something
happens, blame it on QuesTec."
But while QuesTec attempts to answer the question at hand - just what is a
strike, anyway? - its critics have one of their own: Just what is QuesTec?
Depending on whom you talk to, there are differing accounts of how the
company is run, who runs it, even where it's located.
It used to have an office in Deer Park, but that was closed last year.
Although Plumacher identifies himself as the company's founder, he is not an
officer and is listed as "key employee" in Securities and Exchange Commission
filings. Two ex-employees say Plumacher, who lives in West Islip, calls the
shots, but he denies that. QuesTec chairman Stephen Greenfield, a Florida
attorney, and president Derek Donaldson, a lawyer in British Columbia, didn't
Fair or Foul?
This season, Major League Baseball is using a computerized system called
QuesTec to test umpires' performance calling balls and strikes.
The company says the system is accurate to within a half-inch, but umpires and
many players have criticized it.
According to Major League Baseball's Official Rules, "the strike zone is that
area over home plate, the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the
midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and
the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap."
Cameras mounted high up in the stadium follow the flight of the ball from the
pitcher's hand to home plate.
Cameras near the dugouts along the first and third base lines help establish
where a batter's strike zone is.
Watching the Plate
The overhead cameras follow the flight of the ball to see if it passes over
home plate. They also record pitch speed and trajectory.
Watching the Batter
The field-level cameras record the height of the ball as it crosses home plate.
Marking the Strike Zone
Later, a technician uses images from the field-level cameras to help calculate
the batter's strike zone and determine whether the pitch was a strike.
After each game, the home plate umpire is given a CD-ROM that shows how he and
QuesTec called each pitch so he can compare the results. Major League Baseball
has told its umpires that it expects at least 90 percent of their ball-strike
calls to agree with QuesTec's.
SOURCES: QuesTec, ESPN, news reports