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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the issue of robot umpires one day calling balls and strikes on the field, telling reporters Thursday in New York that the technology must further improve.
“Look, the technology of calling balls and strikes without a human being involved has continued to improve,” Manfred said, according to USA Today. “Sandy Alderson started us down the path of reviewing balls and strikes via technology after the fact. The principal reason we’ve always done it after the fact is that unlike the box you see on a broadcast, [for] our system that we use to grade our umpires, someone goes in and manually adjusts the strike zone for the batter. As technology continues to improve and those sorts of adjustments can be made [in] real time, that technology will become more feasible for use on the field. I don’t believe we are there yet.”
Alderson, who chairs the Official Playing Rules Committee and is the former MLB executive vice president for baseball operations, was in the league office when QuesTec was brought into stadiums to use its pitch-tracking technology to review how home plate umpires performed.
Technology has advanced to the point where MLB Network analyst and former player Eric Byrnes told Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO last month that it’s time to replace the home plate umpire with a computer. Byrnes, who has been on a campaign to do so, dressed as an umpire during an independent league San Rafael Pacifics game in June and called balls and strikes determined by a computerized video system from Sportvision Inc.
The Automatic Umpire consisted of an automatic strike zone, Byrnes behind home plate issuing verbal rulings, and another member of the umpiring crew monitoring the strike zone from the grandstand. Byrnes called balls and strikes based upon what the Sportvision umpire told him in his ear wirelessly, and he could also see a light in centerfield that signified a strike. The strike zone for each individual batter was determined before the game by cameras during batting practice.
Sportvision is also the creator of PITCHf/x, which tracks and records pitches in all Major League stadiums so the information can be used on broadcasts and for performance analysis. Byrnes thinks the automatic strike zone should be implemented across baseball.
“We have the technology in front of us,” Byrnes said. “Why would we not use it?”