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KBO umps caught on mic conspiring to cover up missed call

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : April 15, 2024 - 15:28

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KBO umpire training using the ABS system (Yonhap) KBO umpire training using the ABS system (Yonhap)

During a KBO game in Daegu on Sunday between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions, the umpires were caught on a hot mic attempting to cover up a missed call of a strike as a ball.

"You clearly heard a ball. You understand, right? This is the only way out for us," one umpire was overheard saying during a live TV broadcast during a conversation discussing an objection from the NC Dinos regarding a discrepancy between the robo umpire’s judgment and the human umpire’s call.

After the discussion, the umpires dismissed the NC Dinos' objection on the grounds that it was raised too late to be considered. They also claimed to have heard a voiceover from the automatic balls and strike system -- or ABS -- indicating the pitch was a ball, despite the system having identified it as a strike.

The ABS is a system that automatically determines strikes and balls using radar and cameras. Its judgements are conveyed to human umpires through a voice via an in-ear earphone. It is the umpire who makes the final call.

The Korea Baseball Organization said it will receive written explanations from the involved umpires.

"Depending on the facts, disciplinary actions could also be discussed,” a KBO official said.

The incident occurred during the third inning, when Dinos starting pitcher Lee Jae-hak threw a fastball on the second pitch to Lee Jae-hyeon of the Lions. The ABS read it as a strike, but the umpire shouted "ball." Lions infielder Kim Ji-chan also stole second base on the pitch.

NC Dinos coaches lodged a protest only after the pitcher threw three more pitches.

After umpires gathered to discuss the matter, senior umpire Lee Min-ho said, "The umpire was told 'ball' by voice (through the ABS), although it was determined a strike and shown so by the ABS on the monitor.”

Citing a regulation that says a protest must be made before the next pitch starts, he ruled the appeal denied and the game proceeded with the original call.

However, the broadcast captured a moment during the umpires' discussion that suggested they were attempting to cover up the incorrect call, further fueling the controversy.

During the conversation caught on TV, one of the umpires was also caught saying that the sound was "crackling and seemed like a ball,” to which senior umpire Lee responded, "Don't say it seemed like a ball. Say it was called a ball. That’s what you should do if we don't want to get into trouble."