Major-league umpires are more likely to give favorable calls to pitchers who share their same race or ethnicity, UT economics professor Daniel Hamermesh (above) and his team found in the study of 2,120,166 pitches over three seasons.
Hamermesh, author of “Economics Is Everywhere” and a specialist in the economics of labor demand and markets, and fellow researchers saw an opportunity to expand on the idea of bias in sports officiating. Whereas an NBA referee is not obligated to make a call on every play, home-plate umpires must make a judgment call on every pitch that isn’t hit.
“Baseball provided us with an opportunity to refine our study and explore other avenues,” said study contributor Christopher Parsons, an assistant professor of finance at McGill University in Montreal. “We were able to employ different levels of scrutiny and see if umpires were up to any funny business when making their calls.”
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.
“The potential for racial/ethnic preferences to affect a game directly through called pitches alone is questionable,” the study conceded but added that indirect effects of bias might be more pronounced. “If … pitchers, hitters or managers alter their strategies because of the umpire’s behavior, the potential for racial bias to affect the game is greatly expanded.”
“Elvis Is Everywhere” author Mojo Nixon was not consulted for this study. Mostly because he has nothing to do with the subject, but “he sucks” would also be an acceptable excuse.