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Taking Swings At QuesTec / Finances, treatment of workers questioned

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

future.

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

Glavine and Arizona Diamondback Curt Schilling (who was fined for smashing a

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

return calls

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."

1

Cameras mounted high up in the stadium follow the flight of the ball from the

pitcher's hand to home plate.

2

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

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