March 28, 2002

Baseball has been using a rather cool technology to help coach their umps.: Some of the younger officials are excited about the new toy, but others seem to be a little scared that it might take over their jobs. If there was a system that would accurately call balls/strikes, should it be used in the umps place? Or should ump error always be part of the game? (NYTimes Link: username: sportsfilter/password: spofi)

posted by 86 to baseball at 12:25 PM - 13 comments

I'm all for this. I've never like the idea of umps and such subjective views on the strike zone. There would be no arguing of calls and the game could move along quicker.

posted by corpse at 12:59 PM on March 28, 2002

And I'm completely against it. I'm a traditionalist, plain and simple. I'll take the bad calls and subjective views in exchange for not ripping the heart out of the game. I have no idea how the casual basefan will feel about this, but I think the majority of fans who played baseball their entire youth and have been a fan their entire lives would agree. No time clock, no instant replay, no computer generated strikes and balls.

posted by justgary at 01:20 PM on March 28, 2002

Let me start with the premise that 'I am Canadian, though not of the backwoods-cookie-cutter-Molson-ad variety. That somehow means I'm pretty unedumacated when it comes to innings, errors, and the like. But I still feel I have something to say on this matter. The electronic eye of tennis is fallible. At the US Open every year the electronic eye gets shut off at some point as it beeps incessantly, somehow annoyed at the price of a hotdog that should be diamond incrusted for the price. An electronic strike zone could improve the game as similar technology rid us of the McWhiners of tennis (at least most of the time, though they still find reason to argue with the electronic eye). A electronic ump is a great idea, but at the same time would never threaten the need for real, animated, loud umps. Screw tradition, but don't forget it. Umps will always exist in some form as long as the game is around, but improvement at the elite level is always welcome. Ask the players, I bet they'd like to know that a strike is a strike is a strike. Players must play within the confines of rules, regulations, and boundaries. But it is those that come closest to these limits without going over that exceed others. Strike, or strike not, there is no missed call. And while we're at it, how about getting FOX sports to make the ball glow for us not used to the game.

posted by garfield at 01:55 PM on March 28, 2002

I think the technology's really cool, and I'd like to see it incorporated into major league broadcasts. I don't think it should change the officiating of the games, though. Baseball is the most traditional American sport, and the tradition is a major part of its appeal. Part of the tradition is the subjective nature of umpiring. As the Times sample graphic shows, the umpires can be very accurate with their calls, and this technology could be used for umpires to train or improve their skills. (Side note: I love the Times infographics.)

posted by kirkaracha at 02:01 PM on March 28, 2002

Screw tradition, but don't forget it. If you screw it, you might as well forget it. Baseball is built on tradition. Lose those fans and the sport is dead. I don't think the casual fan (as yourself) can understand this. Ask the players, I bet they'd like to know that a strike is a strike is a strike. Yes, but ask them if they want a computer to call balls and strikes and I promise you a very high majority would be against it. This all leads to why baseball needs to be run by someone who respects and understands the game, and not someone who wants to 'screw tradition'.

posted by justgary at 02:08 PM on March 28, 2002

justgary, I'm confused by your contracdictory comments in light of the fact that umps make mistakes, or atleast are inconsistent from game to game and ump to ump. However good training may be, variance is inevitable. And to clarify, when screwing something, one can not forget what one has screwed, though one may want to. Maybe the point is lost in the language, but screwing tradition solely entails not being confined by an institutionalized system. This is not to say the system is thrown out, but honed for improvement. Take my first love, hockey. I've heard the idea tossed around the watercooler about using cyborg refs. I'm all for it. Seriously, hockey is a game that is steeped in tradition as well, but is not afraid of change. GMs discuss change every year, and usually nothing is done apart from massaging what penalties will be called that particular year. Sure there are failures(that whole untouchable crease fiasco, ugh!!), but successes actually do happen as well. And here's an idea to chew on; the umps will still be there even with the electronic strike zone. Someone still has to enforce all the other rules and take head butts. Its not like Selig is going to banish all the umps to Elba, and demand the game go on, though without any public assurances from the players themselves.

posted by garfield at 03:55 PM on March 28, 2002

This is a great idea. Why not use the tools available to check the skills of the men given the final authority on the field? I see this as a training and evaluation tool. The next step is a membership here for some of the more Eric Gregg-like umpires!

posted by hysdavid at 04:11 PM on March 28, 2002

And while we're at it, how about getting FOX sports to make the ball glow for us not used to the game.
I just had to say that that cracked me up :)
Overall... I'm sort of torn by this. On the one hand, I can see how (say) every Giants fan who felt victimized by the strike zone in the '97 playoffs would appreciate more consistent and better strike zones. And I can't object to that viewpoint, nor do I think it would 'destroy' the game as some here seem to think. That said... I think it should just be for training purposes. And then the real kicker- if you /can't/ call good strikes, they toss you. The NFL works hard with video to grade and study refs, and make sure they meet standards. If something can come of the training, and umps become more precise and consistent as a result (instead of ignoring the rules as they continued to do this season) then let them stay and keep the computers out. If they continue to think that they are above the rules, then by all means, let the cameras handle it.

posted by tieguy at 04:55 PM on March 28, 2002

For another point of view about umpires and strikes, Gary Huckabay has an interesting article. -- Screw tradition, but don't forget it. If you screw it, you might as well forget it. Baseball is built on tradition. Lose those fans and the sport is dead. But it's silly to think baseball shouldn't change. If it didn't, pitchers would be throwing from 50' away, every pitch would have to be thrown underhanded, every fielder would be playing without gloves, and there would be 5 balls and 5 strikes per batter. I originally hated the idea of instant replay in the NHL, but I now accept it as a necessary tool (as long as it is used just for disputed goals). I don't see why Pitch-Tracker should immediately be discarded as an idea for baseball Even if they instituted a system just to train and evaluate the umpires on calling strikes, they'd still be pretty much on their own for things like checked swings, tagging the base runner, beating out the throw to a base, and other important split-second decisions. They'd still have a reason to be in the game. (As for Eric Gregg...his strike zone Florida Marlin's World Series games (especially for Livan Hernandez) was even wider than he was...he's a terrible umpire.)

posted by grum@work at 05:04 PM on March 28, 2002

grum: FWIW, I'm pretty sure he didn't call the World Series; the Livan Hernandez game everyone screamed about was in the Divisional Playoffs.

posted by tieguy at 05:39 PM on March 28, 2002

I can see objecting to some technological advances that actually effect the way a game proceeds, like instant replay in the NFL which actually necessitated a new set up procedures and added time to games. But according to this article, this technology could be used on the fly in a way that wouldn't disrupt the flow of the game. What's going to make you enjoy the game less? The knowledge that the umpire is receiving technological help? I don't go to games to watch skillful umps, I go to watch skillful players. I'm sick of watching incredibly accurate flame-throwers get robbed of strike calls because of an understandably human failure of perception. I say bring it on!

posted by spork65 at 06:04 PM on March 28, 2002

Hasn't this tool been around since last year? I remember seeing a story in the Globe (not that you can link to their archives or anything) and/ or Jerry Remy talking about it as a tool to help the MLB reintroduce the strike zone to the umps and players.

posted by yerfatma at 07:34 AM on March 29, 2002

Personally, I think this would be an excellent training tool for MLB. And maybe it would also help shape up some of the fools they call umps too -- or at least make it easier to fire the more egregiously incompetent ones.

posted by PeteyStock at 02:57 PM on March 29, 2002

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.