Major League Baseball’s initiative to modernize the game is beginning to further impact what we’ll see and hear from its umpires.
First, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced last week an electronic strike zone would be used in spring training games. And now we’re hearing the umpires might be mic’d up like their counterparts in the NFL and NHL.
It seems giving umpires a voice would be much easier to implement. And it’s long overdue. Think about how frustrating it is trying to figure out what’s going on when calls are being challenged or rules are being interpreted. It would be a public service to rectify the situation as soon as possible.
Sources told ESPN that MLB would like this to happen prior to the start of the season on March 26, but there are a lot of details that need to be worked out. As you might suspect, everyone is being overly cautious about how it all would work.
“I feel like getting more information on replay reviews would be great. Being able to hear what they see/say about the play will provide a better explanation of the call, which will be very beneficial for both sides,” Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Stephen Vogt told ESPN.
If this works as planned, an umpire would be able to immediately inform everyone at the park or watching television what the status of a challenge is. They’d also be equipped to provide insight into the interpretation of rules.
It’s something we’ve all become accustomed to watching the NFL and NHL. Referees face the camera and flip the switch at their belts and tell us all what’s happening and why. The NBA currently doesn’t mic up their officials. When something needs to be explained, its done by the public address announcer after briefed by the officials.
“It will be helpful to the fans, which is good,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin told ESPN. “Sometimes they’re left in the dark as with what is being challenged.”
The major thing everyone wants clarified before proceeding is making sure the system is secure and no arguments and/or swearing by the players and coaches will be heard.
As for the electronic strike zone, the executive committee of the umpires union worked quickly to explain that electronics would not be used as a substitute for their verdict.
“Reports that MLB will use ‘robo-umps’ to call balls and strikes in spring training games this year are completely inaccurate,” the umpires union said in a statement last week. “Our understanding is that a camera-based tracking system will be running in the background during some spring training games for technology development and training purposes. But any game in which a Major League Baseball umpire is working will have a human calling balls and strikes.”
This is a big deal for umpires. You can imagine how sensitive they are about the future intrusion of technology. As it is, they are already being graded on ball-strike and base calls. This would only heighten the scrutiny.
“The union has never opposed the use of technology to improve the accuracy of calls, including on balls and strikes, if it can be done while protecting the integrity of the game. We do not claim to be perfect and we work constantly to improve our performance.
“But no automated system will be perfect either, and we have concerns about potential fundamental changes to pitch-calling that will need to be accepted by both the players and the fans.
“To achieve this new contract with the owners, however, we agreed that MLB can use [the electronic strike zone], if important conditions are met, and after a process through which umpires will have direct input into when and how the technology enters Major League games, including spring training games. We believe our involvement will be crucial to preserving fair play if the owners are determined to introduce this fundamental change.
“We bargained hard for these protections, and the process we negotiated has not even started. Use of … technology in spring training games this year would be premature and would violate our new agreement. We have received absolutely no word from the Office of the Commissioner that MLB intends to do that.”