“Disputed Calls Like That Invariably Provoke Chatter About A Surprisingly Doable Proposal: Robot Umps”

Babe Ruth Slides Home

Count me among those wholeheartedly ready for robots to replace home-plate baseball umpires. Ball-and-strike calls are wrong about 10% of the time even with the best of umpires, and that leaves an awful lot of wiggle room for not only honest fallibility but even chicanery. To err is human, I know, but perhaps so is coming up with solutions to reduce incompetence? Experiments with robot umps begun in 1950 should be worked on today in the minor leagues. Then the buckets of bolts should be promoted.

Jason Gay, a talented writer for the Wall Street Journal, isn’t so sure. He believes something will be lost as something’s gained in the transfer of duties from carbon to silicon, not only because machines also malfunction (though less often, most likely), but also because of bigger-picture issues. An excerpt that pivots off of David Ortiz’s disputed strikeout at Yankee Stadium this weekend:

Disputed calls like that invariably provoke chatter about a surprisingly doable proposal: robot umps. Precise camera tech to pinpoint balls and strikes has existed for years. Even if the pitch tech at Yankee Stadium showed the calls against Ortiz were not so egregious, the suggestion is clear: Had a “robo-ump” been on ball-and-strikes duty, Big Papi may have marched to first base and tied a game the Red Sox instead wound up losing.

Seems reasonable, right? Whenever possible, shouldn’t tech be used to make the proper call? There are loads of examples of technology improving accuracy in sports—Hawk-Eye line-calling in tennis, for one, is crisp, quick and enjoyably theatrical (fans clap in anticipation!). The NFL, meanwhile, uses an oddball system in which an official crawls under Dracula’s cape to review replays. It mostly works, even if it often takes longer than a bus trip to Maine, and no one on earth seems to know what a catch is in the NFL anymore.

That’s a good reminder that technology isn’t a guaranteed savior. Not every play is reviewable. Machines falter. Software glitches. Some inevitabilities in life are utterly resistant to modernization, like making the bed, or LaGuardia Airport.•

Tags: ,