RIBBE Fans Say No To Robot Umpires In Baseball

No matter how full my grocery cart is, I prefer a friendly cashier to tally up my order as opposed to a self checkout counter. I like the interaction, I like the small talk, and I like that someone has a job. Do cashiers make mistakes? Yes, they do. My son is a cashier at Dave’s Marketplace here in North Kingstown and he has made mistakes. Mistakes happen to human beings. At a self checkout counter, there are few if any mistakes made. A bar code is scanned and the computer tallies up your order. In the end, you pay the computer, take your groceries, and should feel confident that your total is exactly what is in your carriage. Self Checkout counters reduce the need for human beings to work as cashiers and limit the potential interactions that customers have with staff. With the advent of self checkout counters, customers can literally walk into a store, fill up their shopping carts, and leave without ever talking to anyone.

A recent article caught my eye about Major League Baseball and how they plan to experiment with robot umpires in the Atlantic Independent League (https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-will-use-independent-atlantic-league-as-testing-ground-for-robot-umpires-other-aggressive-rule-changes). So, I ran a Facebook poll this past week to ask my RIBBE fans about this issue. Before I post the results, here are a few thoughts:

  • Umpires are human. Humans are not perfect. Neither are you, your players, your coaches, your parents.
  • Most umpires that worked in youth baseball games are consistent. Consistent behind the plate, consistent on the base paths. The number of bad calls in a game is typically a very low percentage of the total calls made in a game. One bad call out of 250 calls means the umpire is doing their job at a high level.
  • Umpires that have worked games at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels have all played baseball, coached baseball, and know the game better than most of the players and coaches in the games. Do they make errors? Sure, but again the percentage of bad calls in a game is low.
  • Also, youth baseball umpires help the kids on the field get better. I have coached a lot of games where the umpire will take a moment to teach a young player how to stand in the batter’s box or how to throw a strike or a rule that is important. They want the kids to get better.
  • A bad call is most always a difference of opinion between the umpire’s interpretation and the coach’s interpretation of a particular play. Balls and strikes are being called behind home plate by an umpire. A coach is typically standing at an angle in front of or in the dugout several feet away, which often time skews the view of the pitched ball. Parents in the stands are merely hoping for a ball or a strike depending on which team they are routing for. The same can be said about a safe or out call on the base paths. Typically, the umpire is in position near the bag to make the call. Parents, players, and coaches are not even close to the bag, and they make a judgement call for a play that doesn’t go their way.
  • On some levels (not sure about college), instant replay is used as a means of checks and balances with umpires. I see this every time I watch a Major League baseball game. A home run is reviewed. A play at the plate is reviewed. A stolen base is reviewed. And again, umpires make mistakes especially at the professional level where the game is played at lightning speed. Since 2014, professionals have used instant replay to review a play and determine if the call on the field should stand or be overturned. I would say for the most part, instant replay has done its job to correct human umpire errors.

Can you envision a world where a robot umpire is calling balls and strikes at a baseball game? This robot umpire scans the batting stance of the batter. Then, calculates the exact strike zone as laid out by Little League® or Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth Baseball or MLB rule books. You can have a robot home plate umpire announce balls and strikes in one of those cool, futuristic robot voices. Sounds like a fair arrangement, after all the human umpire should know the strike zone as laid out by the rule book of the league he works in. And the robot umpire will have the exact strike zone defined by the software it was programmed to use. Or what if a TV is mounted to a pole just passed the first base bag and flashes “SAFE” or “OUT” for a play at first base? Or again, in one of those cool, robotic voices. Does that sound like a game you want to watch or be a part of?

Here is the poll question I posed on Facebook: “9 Seasons ago, Armando Gallaraga had a perfect game going into the 9th inning. After two outs were recorded, a ball was hit to the first baseman who underhanded it to Gallarga covering to record the final out. The runner, clearly out if replay were allowed in 2010, was called safe. The play stood despite tons of arguments. The runner was allowed to stay at first and Gallaraga lost out on history. Replay reviews via instant replay on the field are somewhat new to baseball, having started around 2014 in MLB games. And now, MLB is going to test out robot umpires in the Atlantic League of the Independent League (https://www.cbssports.com/…/mlb-will-use-independent-atlan…/) to see how good or bad the robotic system will be. Do you want a robot calling balls and strikes for your favorite pitcher? Do you understand and respect that umpires are human and they are not perfect? Are you comfortable with removing an element of the game that has been in place for over a century – the umpire? What are your thoughts?”

The results came back with 75% of the fans saying NO to robot umpires. 25% said YES to robot umpires. And one more fact to clear up about umpires. There have been very few instances where an umpire’s call has cost a team a victory on the field. You can look them up online but again the percentage of these instances versus the total number of games umpired is minuscule. It stinks when your favorite team or your local youth baseball team loses a game when you feel the umpires blew a call. I know, I have been there before. But umpires are human and they are not perfect. Then again, neither am i and neither are you.

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