Calling Balls And Strikes

Robot Umpire

Calling balls and strikes in major league baseball has to be mechanized. This is obvious and beyond argument, and the only question is what will finally make the bitter-enders abandon their rationalizations and capitulate to reality.

I last wrote about this in 2012 in a post titled “Umpire Accountability, As the Day Of The Robot Approaches,” following a 1-0 game in which a batter in a position to tie the game was called out on strikes by an umpire named Larry Vanover, who rang him up with three balls out of the strike zone for the final 9th inning out. This particular contest was between two teams that had finished the previous season with one of them edging out the other for the play-offs by a single game, on the last day of the schedule. The pitches called strikes in this particular at bat weren’t even close to being over the plate. You could see that all three were wide with the naked eye as they arrived in the catcher’s mitt; you could see it in the computer graphic on the screen, and after the game, the pitches’ locations were charted to show that they were, in fact, balls. I wrote…

Baseball fans invest too much time and emotion into following the games and their teams to just shrug off results warped by obvious incompetence. The kind of atrocious umpiring demonstrated by Vanover…poses a direct challenge to baseball’s integrity. What will baseball’s leaders do about it?

They have only three choices:

1.They can, for the first time, take public and punitive action against umpires whose poor performance exceeds a missed call or a human mistake, and demonstrates inexcusable incompetence or a lack of professionalism. First time: a stiff fine. Second time: a suspension without pay. Third time: dismissal.I know that the umpires union in Major League Baseball protects its incompetents as zealously as the teachers unions, but baseball has its product to protect.

2. Baseball’s leaders can make a commitment to automated strike and out calling, and cut back on crews to one field umpire to keep order and one booth umpire to read the printouts, watch the TV screen, and study the replays.

3. Baseball can reject integrity and credibility, and continue to let the Vanovers on the field wreck the games and alienate fans.

So far, disgracefully, the sport has chosen #3, but the clock is ticking. Continue reading

Of The Great Noodle Ordeal, Sweeney Todd, Stressors, and The Importance Of Ethics In Stopping Mass Killings

I have a theory about mass killings, and it is neither original nor exclusive: in fact, it has been proposed in various forms for at least a  century But I think it is worth considering.

I think that the smart, creative, intense, ambitious, restless and entrepreneurial people in this country keep designing an environment, and forcing it on us whether we like or need it or not,  that is increasingly, and ultimately unbearably, hostile to those who are not smart, creative, intense, ambitious, restless and entrepreneurial. I think that as life becomes increasingly stressful and confusing for average people—remember, about half of the public is below average intelligence, and even average intelligence is nothing to jump up and down over—they are more likely to reach what the serial killer profilers on “Criminal Minds” call “stressors”—the final straw, the moment when they see red, and deadly fury takes over. On the TV show, of course, the stressor is the death of a child, or a firing, or the onset of an illness, or financial setbacks. But I can see it simply being the realization that life is hopeless…that it is always going to be a miserable, frustrating struggle, and that powerful, rich, meddling people are at work always finding ways to make sure it gets harder and harder, and ultimately futile, for normal human beings to get through the day.

I entertain delusions that I am smarter than the average bear, and I can barely stand it myself. Yesterday, stuck at La Guardia, I wanted to get some food in the a terminal’s food court. The place I chose had just added computerized self-ordering on iPads. I’m not intimidated by iPads; I use one. The woman in front of me, however, stared at the device—there were no readily available employees to guide her through it—as if it were a space alien. She pushed some buttons, sighed, and gave up. Continue reading

Umpire Accountability, As The Day of the Robots Fast Approaches

If Robby replaces you, Larry, it's your own fault.

Are baseball’s umpires trying to get themselves replaced by machines? Or perhaps baseball’s brass are conspiring to allow incompetent and lazy umpires to do themselves in, as their miserable work wins over the traditionalists and the Luddites to mechanical ball and strike-calling and their overseers refuse to take decisive action against the worst officials they have. Whatever the explanation, today’s debacle ending the Tampa Rays-Red Sox game in Boston showed an appalling lack of accountability and professionalism in a segment of the game that is critical to its credibility and integrity. Continue reading

Backtracking on Virtual World Ethics

 

Anything unethical about these guys?

I was wrong.

New technology challenges our ethics because we have no immediate frames of reference to rely on. The situations created by the use of new technology require us to reach back to things we are more familiar with for guidance, and we risk choosing comparisons that prove to be superficial and inaccurate over time. This is the trap I fell into when I first approached the question of whether a player’s misconduct —or rather his avatar’s misconduct—in virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life could be unethical. My frame of reference was video games, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons,  and games generally. If engaging in Second Life is analogous to playing a game, then vandalizing someone’s home in cyberspace is no different from invading another player’s country in Risk. If “Warcraft” is essentially similar to playing a video game, then “killing”  an avatar is no more unethical than mowing down enemy soldiers in Medal of Honor.

And if virtual games were fantasies, I reasoned, then declaring anything that took place in their boundaries unethical was tantamount to policing thought. Thoughts are not unethical;  actions are. Case closed, right? Continue reading

Googling Potential Jurors in Court: Not Unethical, Just New

I sometimes facetiously tell legal ethics classes that the average judge is ten years behind the average lawyer in technological acumen, who is five years behind the average 13-year-old. The law and legal ethics consensus is always playing catch-up with technological developments, and every time technology is put to a new or unexpected use in a trial, some judge may react to it like a Cro-Magnon encountering his first flame.

This happened recently in the case of Carino v. Muenzen (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.) During jury selection, plaintiff’s counsel began using his laptop computer to go to the Web and seek  information on prospective jurors. Defense counsel objected,  and the following exchange took place: Continue reading