Robot umpire aid debuts in minors as MLB watches closely
Robots in baseball?
That was the case Wednesday night in the Atlantic League All-Star Game, putting them one step closer to the big time.
The plate umpire in the game at York, Pa., wore an earpiece that would relay whether a pitch was a ball or strike based on computer evaluation.
The umpire then relays the call to the players and fans in attendance, just as always. The umpire can also override the call.
"I think once people actually see this happening, they're going to realize it's not that big a deal," Atlantic League president Rick White told the Washington Post.
White said the system will be deployed across his league in the coming weeks.
The independent Atlantic League and Major League Baseball have an official partnership as the lower league rolls out new rules, innovations and equipment for MLB to study.
The strike zone system, provided by MLB, was created by Trackman, a sports data firm. Software in the press box relays the call to a smart phone, which relays to the bluetooth earpiece the umpire wears. A square array well behind home plate monitors the strike zone.
MLB's executive vice president of economics and operations Morgan Sword told ESPN it was "an exciting night for MLB."
"One of our focuses is not to replace the umpire," Sword said. "In fact, we're trying empower the umpire with technology. The home plate umpire has a lot more to do than call balls and strikes, and he's going to be asked to do all of that. We're in touch with our umpires' union, and this is the first step of the process."
Many umpires see the move to a robotic help as a matter of time, and MLB has reportedly already experimented with it at two stadiums.
"I have seen this coming. It's inevitable," Atlantic League umpire Derek Moccia told the Post. "The game is changing. Baseball needs to speed up to keep up with the world. And if you want to be on board with this, you have to keep up. The game is bigger than you, bigger than any player."
Among other new rules to be tested in the Atlantic League? Allowing a player to steal first base. As can now be done when a third strike is not caught cleanly, the new rule allows the batter to try and take first on any count if a pitch is not caught cleanly.
All of this comes ahead of the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement in 2021, when MLB owners and players will have to agree to any such rules changes.