Throw ‘Em Out

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Umpires have been a part of baseball since its beginning. Is it time to throw a robot behind home plate instead? SARAH HAMILTON/GRAPHICS CENTER

Major League Baseball, which is approaching its 150th anniversary, is rich with history and tradition; from the designated offensive and defensive style of play to the managers wearing uniforms like their players.

However, one of the more frustrating aspects that has stood through history governs home plate: the home plate umpire.

The best umpires are the ones whose names you never hear. If they’re doing their jobs correctly, you’ll never know about them. In baseball, the calling of balls and strikes has always relied on whoever the umpire is, and this has consistently yielded inconsistent results. The strike zone the pitchers are working with depends largely on the umpire they get that night: Will they be making calls tight or wide? Are they calling pitches landing in the same area consistently? Are they calling the same strike zone for both teams?

Considering the human element of the position, consistent calls are not a given, despite their importance. In fact, when umpires are announced before a game, you can predict how the game will be called. For example, several websites have been created focusing on the statistics of umpires, showing their average strikeout and walk calls per game and the runs created from them. The difference between the most and least called strikeouts per game? Four. For walks? Three. For runs? Five. Keeping in mind the trends that umpires will follow in their calls, whether it’s favoring pitches in the bottom half or missing the inside corners, and you are left with a system that needs to be improved.

And over the past few years, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has hinted at the possible solution: robotic umpires. “We are closer than we were a year ago to having the technological capability to actually call the strike zone,” Manfred said during an interview with The Athletic in May 2018. Independent leagues have used the pitch calling technology sporadically over the past few years, yielding promising results. It eliminates a sizeable amount of human error from the game and rights the injustices brought by a biased umpire.

When I watch a game, I don’t want to know who the umpire is, and I want the right calls to be made. I don’t want a player or manager tossed out of a game for arguing a called strike three that the umpire got wrong. I don’t want an umpire calling two seperate strike zones and eliminating parity from what should be an objective position. This doesn’t mean I want all of the umpires replaced by computers, just the one calling balls and strikes.

The MLB has already implemented a pitch clock, shortened the time between innings and limited mound visits — all things cited as changing the fabric of the game. And nothing monumental happened. The game went on. And it will do the same when they rightfully dump the home plate umpire and automate the strike zone.

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