If they ever play Major League Baseball again—the sport is in the middle of a lock-out over the distribution of billions of dollars between owners and players, among other contested issues—it looks like games being ruined by bad pitch calls will soon be history.
MLB officials announced that computer umpires that use an automated system for determining ball and strike calls will now be employed in Triple-A baseball for the 2022 season. I had predicted that robo-umpires at home plate would arrive in five years, considering how resistant baseball is to change, but this puts the Automated Ball and Strike (ABS) system, which was used with success last season in some of the lower minor leagues, just one level below the major leagues. Absent unforseen problems, this could mean that the days of batters being called out on strikes with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th by pitches six inches off home plate could end after the 2022 season.
This is a grand slam for integrity. Once games were universally televised and broadcasts could show exactly where a pitch crossed the plate (or didn’t), umpires’ mistakes, in some games with the worst umpires nearing 20% of all pitches, became intolerable. Replay systems already allow reversals of the most egregious calls on the bases, making far fewer games determined by “the human factor,” also known as “lousy umpiring.”
When there was no way to fix bad calls, it was fair to call human error “part of the game.” Now it’s just an unnecessary and annoying part of the game. There was no excuse for letting it continue.