Race Study Cries Foul Over Umpires’ Calls

Danny Davis, American Statesman, August 14, 2007

First, one study claimed that basketball referees were racially biased. Now, a new study by a University of Texas professor says baseball umpires are guilty of discrimination, too.

Major-league umpires are more likely to give favorable calls to pitchers who share their same race or ethnicity, UT economics professor Daniel Hamermesh and his team found in the study of 2,120,166 pitches over three seasons.

The report comes three months after another scholarly study found racial bias among referees in the National Basketball Association in regards to calling fouls.

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For the survey, researchers collected data on every pitch from the 2004–06 seasons. Only pitches for which umpires had to make a judgment call were used in the study.

White umpires, who researchers said accounted for 87 percent of the league’s umpires, were more likely to give a called strike to a white pitcher than to a pitcher who is Hispanic, African American or Asian.

White pitchers were granted a strike on 32.06 percent of the called pitches that white umpires viewed, as opposed to 31.47 percent for Hispanic pitchers and 30.61 percent for African American pitchers.

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The study, which might not be published for another two years, concluded that when umpires know that they are being scrutinized, the evidence of racial bias tends to drop.

For instance, in the 11 ballparks that use the QuesTec system to track the location of every pitch and every umpire’s call (such as Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros), the researchers found less racial bias.

Similar results were found based on attendance (more bias at lesser-attended games) and the importance of the pitch (less bias when the umpire’s call would declare the batter out).

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