May 9, 2016

HURRY ROBOTS:

Who Is Ready for Baseball's Robot Umpires? (JASON GAY, May 8, 2016, WSJ)

[T]here's one space where no one wants to slow technology's march: sports. Here, we want the tech, we want it precise, and we want it now, especially in the matter of officiating. Officiating (umpiring, refereeing, lines-judging, whatever) is an endeavor in which there is almost zero nostalgia for the human touch, because the human touch means occasionally getting it wrong--and getting it wrong makes 
players, coaches and fans, well, cuckoo.

The other night at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox designated hitter David "Big Papi" Ortiz found himself at the plate in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and Boston trailing by one run. A 3-1 pitch crossed up the Yankee catcher and appeared to dart low and outside, and Ortiz assumed he had drawn a game-tying walk. Nope. Strike two. The ump called another borderline strike on 3-2, and Ortiz went, well, Big Papi went cuckoo.

Disputed calls like that invariably provoke chatter about a surprisingly doable proposal: robot umps. Precise camera tech to pinpoint balls and strikes has existed for years. Even if the pitch tech at Yankee Stadium showed the calls against Ortiz were not so egregious, the suggestion is clear: Had a "robo-ump" been on ball-and-strikes duty, Big Papi may have marched to first base and tied a game the Red Sox instead wound up losing.

Seems reasonable, right? Whenever possible, shouldn't tech be used to make the proper call? There are loads of examples of technology improving accuracy in sports--Hawk-Eye line-calling in tennis, for one, is crisp, quick and enjoyably theatrical (fans clap in anticipation!).

One big problem for umpires is that most telecasts now display strikezone graphics and we can all see how often pitches are called wrong.

Posted by at May 9, 2016 4:25 PM

  

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