Now is the Time for Robot Umpires in Major League Baseball

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Now is the Time for Robot Umpires in Major League Baseball

Jacob Chaimovitch

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If not now, when?

It was announced at the beginning of the 2019 season that the MLB would partner with the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) to introduce the first robot umpire system: TrackMan. TrackMan is a radar system that has an automated strike zone and makes calling balls and strikes more accurate. Per order of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the robot umpire debuted in the ALPB and, at the end of the season, he was noted in saying that TrackMan would debut in some minor league ballparks during the 2020 season. Robot umpires are making their way closer and closer to the MLB and now is the time more than ever to bring them into the league.

One downside to bringing in robot umpires is that, soon enough, robots will literally be taking people’s jobs on the baseball diamond. But, could it be for the better? Umpires, as it stands, have a tough job already. As an umpire myself I can say that even at the Little League level, it is an intense atmosphere and one call can very well be the difference between winning and losing for a team. Managers and players will always argue with umpires that are human. But, will they argue with umpires that are robotic and always correct? This year alone, there were 218 ejections in the regular season and playoffs, which is almost 40 more than the previous season and the highest total since 2015. Of the 218 ejections this year, 189 of them involved the home plate umpire and most of those were over a ball/strike call. If the person behind the plate calling balls and strikes is actually a robot without error, ejections will go down and people will get to enjoy the game more.

The technology is there. It was proven in the ALPB when TrackMan was introduced in the first place. It will take some time to perfect, but the fact that the ability to perfect the calling of balls and strikes in the first place was enough to make Manfred enforce the implementing of TrackMan in some minor league ballparks. According to CBS Sports, Manfred was quoted in saying “The technology exists…we’re actually going through a big upgrade of that piece of our technology during this off season. I think we need to be ready to use an automated strike zone when the time is right. That’s why we experimented in the Atlantic League. It’s why we’re using it in Minor League Baseball next year, in some ballparks at least”. It will only be a matter of time before TrackMan debuts in an MLB ballpark and Manfred is looking for it to be sooner than later.

Of course, for one opinion there is always another opinion on the same topic. Senior Alan Cavagnaro says that the implementing of robot umpires “ruins the aspect of umpiring [and] the authenticity of the game. Having a robot telling you if you’re right or wrong in baseball simply shouldn’t be a thing”. While that is a fair point, there was a designated umpire spokesperson for TrackMan when it was in the ALPB. Umpires would still exist and make calls, it just wouldn’t be their calls. On the plus, the calls they make would always be correct based on the strike zone submitted into the programming. With some tweaking over time and more experience with robotic umpires in baseball, it’s only a matter of time before the robots take over for the greater good in the MLB.