The umpires have brought this on themselves. And it is becoming apparent that before long, the home plate ump will become extinct.
As we continue to see the game change before our eyes, nothing would be a bigger change than to see the advent of the electronic strike zone.
It’s been piloted in some levels of the minor leagues and Commissioner Rob Manfred is all for bringing it to the big leagues.
I have an opinion on the topic and it is, for lack of a better word, mixed. I think it would be a drastic move for the game and the human element would take a tremendous blow to the proverbial midsection.
I don’t like it, but I understand why it’s being considered. If umpires want to be so much a part of the game, and want to be part of the action, then my message would be to ‘keep it up, you’ll be sorry.’
Balls and strikes are not to be argued or else players and managers risk being ejected from the game. But many receive quick ejections, wondering why some umps have such a quick hook and equally thin skin.
Some umpires seem to get a charge out of having such an influence on the game, quickly overreacting to any complaint no matter the severity.
More and more of today’s umpires enjoy the spotlight – a place they don’t belong. This game is all about the players and if umpires want a piece of the action, well, then eventually technology is going to find more of a home.
Technology won’t argue. Technology won’t eject anyone. And it doesn’t have an ego.
If you think about it, this emergence of an electronic strike zone began to grow legs the moment that box appeared over the plate on our TV screens. It had to make umpires nervous, because anytime their call didn’t correspond with what appeared inside or outside that box, then they were wrong in our eyes.
The human element in baseball has always been something that the lovers of the game, uh, liked about baseball. But instant replay has played a role in tempering that as well.
When umps make a call after a batted ball anywhere on the field, that call can be challenged. And if it’s a close play, umpires are asked to step aside for instant replay.
‘Thanks for playing umps, but you know, we think you’re wrong.’ And what do you hate most about instant replay, other than how long it takes to make a decision?
That’s right, no arguments!
First of all, you can’t argue after an instant replay, and battles between managers and umpires has always been a source of intrigue and excitement, and if we couple the electronic strike zone with instant replay, well, managers might as well just put their feet up with no reason to ever come onto the field.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, who really misses arguments on the field? Well, I do. Sports are fueled by emotion and adrenaline and when that manager charges out onto the field, the whole place comes alive and tempers flare. And, oh, by the way, the manager might just be out there to send a message to his team and nothing else. A message who says, ‘I’m out here supporting you guys.’ ‘I care about how fairly you are being treated – just so you know.’
When the chips are down, your team is getting beaten and the energy level is low in the dugout, managers can put on a pretty good show out on that diamond, kicking dirt, throwing their hat, getting in the ump’s face. All very entertaining, right? But motivational as well.
And what happens when the manager is ejected at home? Fans cheer him! They love it! And all of a sudden, what do you have? Excitement. Engaged fans who maybe weren’t as engaged before and hopefully a renewed focus from the players.
Most of us remember when Brad Ausmus, during his time as manager in Detroit, appeared to be so furious with the umpire that he took off his sweatshirt and laid it over home plate, as if to say, ‘if you aren’t going to call pitches over the plate strikes, then we don’t need home plate!’
What was the general feeling at the time? It was a show! For the fans. And for his players. It’s not something he did often when he was here. So we questioned whether it was genuine or not. But as Brad headed for the dugout, he got an ovation he had never heard before, or again, in Detroit.
You see, that’s the thing. Arguments get people talking, peak their interest. ‘Boy, is he mad! I have to see where that pitch was!’
See what I mean?
Much of it has been taken away with instant replay. But if you institute an electronic strike zone, too, it will really shut the water off when it comes to energy and emotion.
These are the games within the game that we often talk about. It’s the action and the strategy that can exist between pitches or between innings. Managers and umpires used to slug it out. And trips out onto the field to chat or scream at the ump, many times have an underlying purpose. To protect a player. To motivate a team. Or to gain an advantage.
I believe it needs to be part of the discussion. I believe it is something that has validity.
Technology can go a long way towards ensuring that correct calls are made all over the field. But what’s scary is that it could silence the game altogether.
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