The world is being taken over by robots or at least minor league baseball’s Atlantic League is. Okay, maybe the league isn’t being taken over by technology from an evil scientist or outer space, but the Atlantic League’s All-Star Game did feature a robot umpire in its recent edition.
This isn’t as crazy as it might sound. Surely, a lot of baseball purists cringed when they found out the league used technology to watch over the game.
It makes perfect sense, however, with the way technology has evolved and instant replay is used in sports including football, soccer, and tennis. Now, fans will feel reassured with umpires getting assistance from technology to help make correct calls. Of course, the Atlantic League trialed the technology and it may be some time before Major League Baseball adds it but it looks likely to be around the corner in America’s pastime.
How did it work?
Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore a headphone connected to an iPhone in his pocket. The iPhone was connected to the TrackMann System, which assisted in the ball and strike calls deBrauwere made during the game.
The system made ball and strike calls on each pitch and the messages were relayed to deBrauwere through his headphones. Although the TrackMann System made calls on every pitch, deBrauwere could override them if he didn’t agree.
There was an instance in which the TrackMann System stopped working in the fourth inning and deBrauwere was forced to call the game without the assistance of the robot ump for a brief time. The issue was fixed with the system and deBrauwere was able to use its assistance for the rest of the game.
Did the game benefit?
According to deBrauwere, his calls agreed with the TrackMann System except for one. In the second inning he called Joe Terdoslavich out on strikes. Rather than overruling TrackMann, he went with the robot’s call. In deBrauwere’s words, it is difficult to “be consistent” with the pitch that was thrown as it was borderline and it was the system that called it a strike when deBrauwere would have done the opposite.
The Atlantic League is set to trial the TrackMann System for the rest of the season. If it continues to be successful, which it was so far with all parties happy, more leagues could adopt it. It may not be long until Major League Baseball also trials the system.
Does it take away from the game?
Purists will complain a system that assists umpires in balls and strikes takes away from the true essence of the game. Umpires and referees have always played a major role in a sporting event and their presence adds to the drama.
The system can still be overridden by the umpire in a baseball game. Therefore, the robot may not make a definitive call that changes the outcomes of games. It merely helps umpires make a decision.
Are robot umpires the future of the game? It is a good possibility that they will be ubiquitous in all sports once day. The start-stop nature of baseball makes it a way to get calls correct on a regular basis. It is also a way to keep fans from continually questioning whether a call was correct or incorrect.