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Study Finds Racial/Ethnic Bias Among Baseball Umpires

July 2, 2011 — Matt De Lima

A 26-page study entitled “Strike Three: Discrimination, Incentives, and Evaluation” published in The American Economic Review by Christopher A. Parsons, Johan Sulaeman, Michael C. Yates and Daniel S. Hamermesh, a group of professors from four U.S. universities, has found that:

Major League Baseball umpires express their racial/ethnic preferences when they evaluate pitchers. Strikes are called less often if the umpire and pitcher do not match race/ethnicity, but mainly where there is little scrutiny of umpires. Pitchers understand the incentives and throw pitches that allow umpires less subjective judgment (e.g., fastball over home plate) when they anticipate bias. These direct and indirect effects bias performance measures of minorities downward. The results suggest how discrimination alters discriminated groups’ behavior generally. They imply that biases in measured productivity must be accounted for in generating measure of wage discrimination.

Here is a link to a short summary about the article on the Freakonomics blog.

This is a hot-button topic and a complicated one, especially when you try to factor in how this discrimination affects wages in baseball. The study (which again can be found here) is a dense read, full of math, equations, graphs, charts and everything else. Personally, it was a lot to digest after reading it all. But nonetheless, here’s an important part of their conclusion:

Pitches are slightly more likely to be called strikes when the umpire shares the race/ethnicity of the starting pitcher, an effect that is observable only when umpires’ behavior is not well monitored. The evidence also suggests that this bias has substantial effects on pitchers’ measured performance and games’ outcomes.

Also:

More generally, our results suggest caution in interpreting any estimates of wage discrimination stemming from equations relating earnings to race/ethnicity, even with a large set of variables designed to control for differences in productivity.

And:

… our analysis of the expression of discrimination should be encouraging: When their decisions matter more, and when evaluators are themselves more likely to be evaluated by others, our results suggest that these preferences no longer manifest themselves.

So, there you have it. After reading the study, do you think there is a racial bias? Leave a comment below but hey, let’s play nice and be respectful or your comment will be deleted.

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  • NYYankeeGal

    Baloney! Umpires calls are heavily scrutinized by MLB- At the first sight of even any seeming favoritism the umpire would pulled. Selig has made sure umpires call a fair game. Anyone else that believes this skewed bunch of garbage..I have land to sell you!