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Robotic umpires: Taking the humanity out of baseball

by Margaret Stewart - Managing Editor
Thu, Nov 7th 2019 03:00 pm
Robotic umpires are being tested in the Atlantic League for their potential use in MLB games.
Robotic umpires are being tested in the Atlantic League for their potential use in MLB games.

MLB made controversial decision over the summer, as it has began to experiment with robotic umpires in games. The advancements in technology should, in theory, mark the advancement of society. However, while it is undeniable that new technologies make life easier, there is also the argument that we depend on them for too much. 

According to Bleacher Report, The Atlantic League, an independent baseball league that is affiliated with the MLB, plans to use a radar system they’re naming TrackMan to help umpires more precisely tell the difference between balls and strikes for the 2020 season.

“A computer officially called balls and strikes in regular competition for the first time in the game’s history in the United States at a minor league all-star game,”Jacob Bogage, a reporter for The Washington Post, wrote. 

While there are many people who are in support of this advancement, there are equally as many who are critical of the robotic influence to the game. 

“One of the things we consider is how disruptive [rule changes] will be to how the game is played,” MLB’s Senior Vice President for League Economics and Operations Morgan Sword said. “We’re looking for rules within the context of baseball history that could be easy to implement.”

Every minor and major league park will include the TrackMan technology, which is what is used for the robotic umps, according to The Washington Post.

“It’s mainly used to calculate advanced metrics such as spin rate, exit velocity and launch angle,” Bogage reports. “League officials also use TrackMan to grade umpires.”

This is important as the strike zone is defined as the area from the top of a batter’s belt to the bottom of their knees, while having the width of home plate. 

Umpire Lance Barksdale was behind the plate in Game five of the 2019 World Series. In such an integral game, Barksdale’s performance, which many saw as shaky at best, displayed the need for more accurate umpiring, according to ESPN. 

“The combination of an untimely blown call and a hot-mic video of his rationale behind another poor judgment illustrated why automated balls and strikes must be part of baseball’s future sooner than later,” ESPN reporter Jeff Passan wrote. 

Though the robot umpires sound as though they’ll be hard not to notice, they are only one of the rather major changes the Atlantic League is set to see in 2020, based on reports from Sword.  

According to the Bleacher Report, the new season will include changes in the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate, which will increase to a distance of 62 feet 6 inches from 60 feet 6 inches. 

“This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety,” Sword said. “We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League.”

The future for MLB is uncertain, but what is certain is that changes are coming. The MLB is progressing with the advancements in technology. Hopefully, it will keep keep connecting humans together through shared experiences along the way. 

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