TECHNOLOGY SILENCING BASEBALL

By:  Kurt Snyder

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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29 thoughts on “TECHNOLOGY SILENCING BASEBALL

  1. Technology is the genie you can’t put back into the bottle. It’s seems to have almost doubled length of the game through broadcasting. It’s generated an incredible flow of data for the teams and fans to potentially digest. MLB seems to bat in the wind of these developments rather than protect the essence of the game.

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  2. No on the electronic zone. I always wonder if those boxes are influenced by camera angle and do they only consider the front edge of the plate or the entire depth. I like the human element of baseball and the players aren’t perfect every play so why expect it from the umps. Armando Gallaraga is probably more remembered now than if Jim Joyce would have made the right call.

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      • I agree. What I remember is that even the Cleveland players seemed surprised at the call. Think about it. The pitcher needs one out for a perfect game. If you were the umpire and there was a bang-bang play, wouldn’t you give the pitcher the benefit of the doubt? I would.

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    • spartan1963, For what it’s worth, I have felt for a long time that MLB should either use the electronic strike zone or ban the use of the box on its broadcasts. It is somewhat infuriating to me when I see a ball well outside the boxes strike zone being called a strike, and vice versa. Remaining status quo is not a good option IMHO.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The Gallaraga/Joyce issue is not germane to this discussion. That was not a ball and strike issue, it was the first base umpire, and if it happened today the call would have been challenged and overturned.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with you Kurt; but, I have to admit I’m really tired of catchers “framing” obvious balls and turning them into strikes. This is especially true for high pitches out of the zone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So tired of inept umpires, arguing balls & strikes, managers arguing balls & strikes, Umps giving the benefit of the doubt to someone he things has “earned” it.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Another great post Kurt. I will always be a fan of the game and the Tigers, but the electronic strike zone is one more step toward making it all a “live video game.”

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  5. How many great events or plays in baseball history have came as a result of a bad call, or human error in judgement? I argue that we would not have as many if an electronic system was around. Gallaragas would not have gotten a free car if Joyce got it right. 😉 How many game deciding hits or home run swings where result of fear of extended strike zones? It’s humans playing humans out there. To err human, forgive divine. If you want electronic baseball go play MLB 2020 in sim mode on a game system.

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  6. Good article again Kurt…we’re probably headed to seeing robots in the batters’ box, and on the mound. Why have human imperfection involved at all?

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  7. I believe that a crucial factor in the Tigers’ loss to Boston in the 2013 ALCS was the inconsistent strike zone in the Red Sox favor; we got squeezed; they got extra strikes. In tennis, they have gone to electronic monitors to determine if balls are in or out, and the sport has managed to persevere without tantrums a la McEnroe. In my view, it can’t happen soon enough.

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  8. Former National League umpire Harry Wendelstedt once said, “If they did get a machine to replace us, you know what would happen to it? Why, the players would bust it to pieces every time it ruled against them.They’d clobber it with a bat.” I hope we never find out. It’s the human element that makes life so interesting.

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  9. I’ve worked as a fast-pitch softball umpire and know how hard it is for a human to be accurate and fair calling pitches. And I’ve worked in the computer industry and know how technology can be more accurate and reliable than a human. Fans pay to see the players (not the umpires) when they go to a game, so let technology handle mundane pitch calling. Managers and players will still find plenty of stuff to argue (and fight) about other than the strike zone.

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    • I don’t like the electronic strike zone. You would still need a home plate umpire to call plays at the plate, but what would he do in between, pull up a lawn chair and knock down a brew?

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      • That’s one option, Steve. But I’d rather give them an ear piece that signals whether a pitch is a ball or a strike and let them call it out the way they do now. With pitch calling handled automatically, the home-plate umpire could concentrate on the rest of their duties as umpire-in-chief of the game.

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  10. How about a return to the old strike zone-top of the knees to the letters? I know I’m dating myself now. It might stop all this launch angle emphasis. Hitters just might learn how to bunt and hit the other way again. After all, it may not be that umps are any different today than in the Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, Leo Durocher era of tantrums, it may just be the ineptitude of modern day hitters that’s the real problem.

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    • I agree. The top of knee to the letters strike zone was baseball. Now the zone is below the knee to the waist, allowing batters to uppercut and swing for home runs instead of putting the ball in play in all parts of the field. Sometime oldsters are not wrong; traditional baseball is much more fun to watch.

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  11. I can’t believe I’m going to write this but if a robot behind home plate can help rid the game of a horrible umpire like Angel Hernandez then I’m all for it.

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  12. It’s one thing to be at the game or listen to a good play-by-play radio announcer compared to watching television with the viewing technology that shows an umpire’s every mistake. I believe the over-emphasis on analytics and technology have removed the human element from the most human of sports. The TV, the computer screen, MLB baseball as a video game–a progression that has changed baseball.

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  13. Not quite on point but hear me out. Look at the LL umpires right now. The Japanese catcher sets up in the LH batter’s box, pitcher hits the target, ump calls a strike. Lazy. For the last decade, all we have heard about is what great “framers” some catchers are. Watch the games and you see the umpire with definite bias towards that catcher (and pitcher). IMO, that is where the umpires, besides the incompetents who can do no better, have lost their “value” to the game. Again, LAZY. Just saying.

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  14. I am all for computer umpires. The technology exists so use it. I am tired of watching a 3-2 pitch to begin the inning being called strike three when it is 6 inches outside or low. This changes the inning and the game. It happens several times during a game. TV strike zones are not going away and it is time this technology is transferred to a real game. Cannot come soon enough for me.

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  15. That’d be good! Actually I’m fine with adding the technology and limiting somewhat the arrogance and subjectiveness of many of the umps. No reason the strike zone can’t be objective and consistent. Maybe they could watch ( or be ) the clock and keep hitters in the box, and pitchers moving along.

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  16. Maybe I’m just an old grump, but I would like to believe that the problem could be remedied by having more quality umps. It does seem like the majority of umpires still do a very competent job. Of course this is all a moot point with the Tigers, since their hitters all seem to swing at pitches a foot out of the strike zone anyway!

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  17. One other benefit of the electronic strike zone, with the money they save on the umpires (less work, less pay, right?) teams would be able to raise what they pay in salaries so that these poor guys (players) don’t have to scrape by. 🙂

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  18. I’m all for electronic umpiring behind the plate. Umpires have become far too inconsistent and ALL catchers in the league know how to setup pitches.

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