Those Blind Umpires Won’t Ever Go Away Completely!

Umpires have been making horrible calls around the diamond for over 150 years. A couple of weeks ago after Umpire Ángel Hernández called three consecutive pitches strikes that were clearly balls in a Texas Rangers vs Houston Astros game Ryan Phillips over at Sports Illustrated wrote an article about how baseball needs to implement a challenge system for balls and strikes.

Also, as an avid baseball fan who has studied the game a bit Ryan Phillips’ article got me thinking about the ongoing discussion about the Automated Umpire that is supposedly coming to Major League Baseball in the next few years. Before I get into discussing my opinion on having an Automated Umpire and Ryan Phillips’ idea about implementing a challenge system let’s look at two other situations that have occurred in games this season.

Let’s start by looking at a situation which involved another umpire who is very highly hated by many fans, Hunter Wendelstedt. As this article explains Wendelstedt ejected New York Yankees manager for arguing balls and strikes when it was in fact a fan heckling him.

A couple days after the Wendelstedt situation an umpire, who was left nameless in this article, called a runner out when he was stealing second base two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. This happened in Los Angeles when they were playing against the Baltimore Orioles.

Both of the Wenedelstedt and Hernández situations occurred with them behind home plate. So, let’s take a look at those two closely since it is widely believed that the Automated Umpire will only be used to call balls and strikes.

In the situation with Wendelstedt there is no reason Arron Boone should have been ejected when it was a fan heckling him. That’s all there is to it. However, Hernández situation is the perfect example something that causes fans to heckle umpires when they are in the stands and talk badly about them on social media. Especially die hard fans.

Since two of the situations I mentioned involved ball/strike calls let’s discuss Ryan Phillips’ idea about implementing a challenge system. There would of course be a limit to the number of challenges a team can make on ball/strike calls. However, that would be a horrible idea because it be abused by players/coaches and would slow games down because they’d be having to use an instant reply type of system to make the call. Rob Manfred has said many times the last few years their goal has been to speed games up, not slow them down. Therefore, such a system would be contradictory to that goal.

Would an Automated Umpire speed up the game and avoid managers from getting ejected over ball/strike calls?  You bet it would because the computer that is sitting there making the calls would have a set strike zone for each batter based on their stance allowing human error on the part of the umpires to be eliminated. An added bonus would be that with an Automated Umpire calls like the one in Los Angeles where the runner was called out to end a game could implement a system that would turn to the Automated Umpire System for the call giving the base umpires all an ear piece telling them if the base runner is safe or out base on camera angels used from the new system.

Here’s the thing folks: Major League Baseball initiated testing of an Automated Umpire system within the minor leagues in 2019. The implementation of this technology represented a departure from tradition, aiming to enhance the accuracy and consistency of officiating while embracing the advancements of the digital age while also speeding up games enough where implementing a ball/strike challenge system would actually be unnecessary because the Automated Umpire would be getting the calls correct both on balls/strikes as well as safe/out calls.

With that… the Automated Umpire is coming but until then umpires need to get their eyes checked or MLB needs to force a rotation of umpires where the one with the best track record is always calling ball and strikes.

If you cannot play with them, them root for them.

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