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Could robots fix the umpire?

Program currently being tested in the Atlantic league

If there’s a team that understands the plight that bad umpiring causes, it’s the Padres.

Fans remember Mark Langston getting squeezed in Game 1 of the 98’ World Series. 5-5 tie, bottom of the 7th and the bases loaded. Langston throws this pitch.

It was called a ball. Every San Diegan was stunned. The next pitch, Tino Martinez hits a Grand Slam and the Yankees won 9-6. It changed the entire series.

There was game 163, where Matt Holliday did not touch home plate. I repeat, he did NOT touch home plate.


The Padres lost 9-8 in 13 innings, completing their collapse in that season. Could and should they have won before that? Sure. But the blown call was the icing on the cake.

Those are the 2 most recent, dramatic examples of an umpire ruining our lives for several minutes, days or years at a time. That said, is going digital the answer?

“Already, the Atlantic League (which now is also allowing batters to steal first base on any pitch not caught cleanly by the catcher ) has waded through myriad issues on the robo umpire experiment, all of which have contributed to the delays. It’s more than just calibrating the strike zone. To start, decisions had to be made regarding such seemingly minute details as the volume level in the umpires’ earpieces. It can’t be so loud as to damage their hearing or be a distraction, but it certainly needs to be loud enough to overcome crowd noise. And the calls through the earpieces: Chimes? Bells? Whistles? A sound only for a strike, and silence for a ball? And the earpieces and masks must be compatible enough that, when an umpire removes their mask during a game, the earpiece doesn’t go with it and fall to the ground.

”The league decided on a male voice in the ear that would say one of three things: “Strike,” “Ball” or “No Track.” In the last case, the umpire must make the call on their own, which illuminates another issue: The plate umpire must not become overly dependent on the system because if it fails, even for one pitch, they must be alert enough to call the pitch. Also, umpires must remain focused to make the call on check swings.”

Click here to read the article.

The simple answer, in my opinion, is absolutely not. Maybe the league is responding to the criticism that has become spotlighted due to social media. At the click of a button, we send video clips ripping umpires apart for missing bang-bang plays. And, they deserve it. Mainly because they’re umpires and as fans, we’re obligated to make sure they know we don’t like them unless calls go our way. Fans have disliked umpires since the game was invented. It’s not going to change. Ever.

Some may criticize me for saying I like the human element, but it’s the truth. I don’t think a game built on failure should implement a computer program to protect against human error. It’s a slippery slope.

Where do you stand on this issue Padre fans?