On July 11, 2019, in Sporting News, by Bobby Goodspeed


It’s not really a robot.  It’s not even all that exotic.  Utilizing a simple system of existing technology, the Atlantic League, aka the MLB minors, has implemented a system for determining strikes and balls which centers on a TrackMan computer which using Doppler radar to track baseballs passing through the strike zone.  The home plate umpire receives the signal from an ear piece connected to a common iPhone, and makes the call.

So, there are not really any real robots involved.  We watch the TrackMan system everyday as the rectangle depicting the strike zone on every pitch in every MLB game, we have already done that for years now.  What’s new under this system is that the umpires, for the first time ever, are not only paying attention to the TrackMan info, they are depending on it to make ordinary strike and ball calls.

Of course the umpires still have the power to override the computer if they deem it necessary. For example, a ball that bounces in front of home plate, but still goes through the strike zone, registers on the computer as a strike when the umpire, and everyone else, see it as a ball. That’s just one example.

Obviously the system is still in its infancy and being tested ‘off Broadway’, so to speak, in the Atlantic League.  There will still be plenty of people watching to see how it goes, but the experiment is hardly taking center stage at this point. Some still argue that giving the umpires veto power defeats the whole purpose of the automated system; many do not see it that way at all.

Local play by play announcers in the Atlantic League are playing it up by telling the fans that any blame for disagreements over calls should now be addressed to the computer, not the umpire.

Senior vice president for Major League Baseball Morgan Sword told reporters, “This idea has been around for a long time and it’s the first time it’s been brought to life in a comprehensive way”.  Sword also stated that the league had not received much in the way of negative feedback from the umpires.

Mr. Sword continued, “One of our focuses is not to replace the umpire.  In fact, we’re trying to empower the umpires with technology”.  Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said that there is no set timeline on when the technology will be used in the majors.

Not everyone is in favor of the ‘robot umps’ or even the idea behind them.  The game of baseball is not broken, why try to fix it?  Our ‘National Pastime’ has survived for well over 100 years using good old fashioned umpires to make the calls; to change that would be to change the game itself, wouldn’t it?

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