Blown Call Makes Case for Robot Umpires

Technology has stepped in after human error before, David Von Drehle writes
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2021 4:00 PM CDT
Umpires Aren't Robots—Yet
Gabe Morales, middle, poses with other umpires before the Dodgers-Giants playoff game Thursday in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

After the Dodgers-Giants playoff game Thursday night, Gabe Morales was able to watch replays of his call that ended San Francisco's season. The umpire had ruled that the Giants' Wilmer Flores had gone around while trying to check his swing. That was the third strike, the last out of the game, and a victory for Los Angeles, which has gone on to the next round. Morales wouldn't say whether he stood behind his call, NBC reports. "I don't have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I'm watching it live," the umpire said. Baseball could now decide to take umpiring technology well beyond multiple camera angles.

The blown call "will undoubtedly hasten the arrival of robot umpires to decide balls and strikes in the majors," David Von Drehle writes in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. The issue wasn't a matter of interpreting the strike zone; Morales started to swing but "clearly stopped himself," Von Drehle says. That call is made by the first-base umpire when a righthanded batter is up, and it can't be overturned after a video review. High-profile bad calls have brought technology into play before—such as Don Denkinger calling a Royals runner who was clearly out at first base safe in the 1985 World Series; instant replays are now used for baserunning and other plays.

"Much like players, robo-umps have been working their way up through the minors in recent seasons," Von Drehle writes, and they're proving to be more accurate than humans. One group that demands accuracy, he points out, is gamblers. "They don’t want their money riding on the foibles and caprices of human officials," he says. "So the rules will surely change," Von Drehle adds. "The genius of inventors and engineers and technologists will fill yet another gap through which human error peeps." You can read the full piece here. (More MLB stories.)

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