Umpires for Major League Baseball are more likely to call strikes in favor of pitchers who share their race or ethnicity, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.
But, this behavior diminishes when scrutiny of umpire calls increases—for example at ballparks with electronic monitoring systems, when there are 3 balls or 2 strikes, or at well-attended games.
Daniel Hamermesh, the Edward Everett Hale Centennial Professor of Economics, finance professors at McGill and Auburn Universities and a University of Texas at Austin graduate student analyzed every pitch from three major league seasons between 2004 and 2006 to explore whether racial discrimination factors into umpires’ evaluation of players. This summer, they presented their findings in the paper, “Strike Three: Umpires’ Demand for Discrimination.”
Discrimination in the labor market takes many forms, including disparities in wages, promotion and performance evaluation, the researchers explain.
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.
“Umpires judge the performance of players every game, deciding whether pitches are strikes or balls,” Hamermesh said. “Discrimination affects the outcome of a game and the labor market, determining the pitcher’s market value and compensation.”
The researchers found if a pitcher shares the home plate umpire’s race or ethnicity, more strikes are called and he improves his team’s chance of winning.
“From an economics perspective, the results are troubling because if workers are discriminated against when their performance is evaluated, then the ability to detect discrimination in other areas is reduced,” Hamermesh said.
Also, the power to evaluate players’ performances disproportionately belongs chiefly to members of one group, white umpires, while negative calls particularly impact minority pitchers, he said.