Even if you’ve never been to a game, you probably know that baseball fans let umps have it when they make bad calls. Fans chants and heckles range from asking the ump for permission to pet his Seeing Eye dog to reminding them that there’s only one “I” in umpire. And then there’s this author’s favorite, and likely most popular razz — telling the umpire he needs glasses.
Last week, Texas Rangers pitcher Jesse Chavez didn’t just suggest that the ump needed to don a set of spectacles at the end of the second inning during the Texas showdown against the Houston Astros. He was so frustrated with the strike zone that he took off his own glasses and tried to hand them to home plate umpire Rob Drake at the end of the second inning.
Soon, Chavez and fans may change their suggestion from umps needing glasses to umps needing robots. That’s right, don’t reach for your glasses just yet, you read that correctly. The technology has come into play to bring robots to baseball and as TechCrunch reports, so-called “robotic umpires” have made their debut in baseball’s Atlantic League.
So here’s how it worked last Wednesday. Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an Apple AirPod in his right ear that connected to an iPhone in his back pocket. A computer in the booth configured with TrackMan Baseball technology (the same radar used to track pitches for Statcast) communicated to the iPhone whether the pitch was in or out of the strike zone, and deBrauwere called the calls out loud on the field as a normal umpire would.
There it is, the first pitch in professional baseball history officially called a strike by a computer. https://t.co/a33Lkmsu3K
Check out this “strike” that was called on a pitch that sailed right near the batter’s head.
Automated strike zone rings up hitter on called strike 3 in the Atlantic League. “Let’s get this system in MLB tomorrow!” – every MLB pitcher. https://t.co/arb214RLxk
So, when asked how it went, deBrauwere gave a solid explanation to reporters and shared what he thought about the ‘robot needs glasses’ call to reporters after the game.
“It’s uncharted territory,” deBrauwere told The Washington Post, adding he would have called the pitch a ball. “I just want these guys to know that’s what the system called. I understand why it’s a strike. The top of the ball shaved the bottom of the strike zone. But it would be almost impossible to be consistent with (that pitch without Trackman) because it’s at the bottom of the zone, but also because catcher’s influence is real.”
Considering the frustration throughout the sport shared by fans and players alike over the basket, and the notion that each ump has his own version of the strike zone, the initial game ump’d with a robot ump appears to have been a win, but like any other player or blue on the field, not entirely perfect.
So, clearly, that’s why there’s only one “I” in AI…and from time to time, the robot’s gonna need glasses too.
Join the conversation – we’re talking smack over whether or not the MLB should use robot umps right here on our Facebook page.
Like what you read? Check out more from my WorkingNation blog, The Looming Robot.