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Robot Umpires: Coming Soon To A Major League Baseball Diamond Near You?




Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants argues with home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz after Ortiz called Posey out on strikes against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the eighth inning at Oracle Park on September 28, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants argues with home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz after Ortiz called Posey out on strikes against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the eighth inning at Oracle Park on September 28, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

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Human error when it comes to officiating sports can be frustrating for fans, players and coaches alike. Just ask New Orleans Saints fans after last year's now infamous pass interference no-call in the final moments of the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, which ultimately cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl.

Discussions about how to eliminate the potential for human error in officiating have been going on for years and most professional sports leagues have adapted in some fashion, whether it's instant replay or a video assistant referee. But purists of sports like baseball will cringe at the thought, arguing that human error and discrepancies in the different strike zones of umpires is part of what makes the game great and that to do away with that component would dilute the product on-field. But following a new labor agreement reached last week between the MLB and its’ umpires union, computer plate umpires could be called up to the major leagues at some point during the next five seasons.

Umpires agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball in the development and testing of an automated ball-strike system as part of a five-year labor contract announced Saturday. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association also agreed to cooperate and assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level. The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on July 10. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

MLB has discussed installing the system at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. If that test goes well, the computer umps could be used at Triple-A in 2021 as bugs are dealt with prior to a big league callup. It is not clear whether the Major League Baseball Players Association would need to approve computerized ball and strikes.

With files from the Associated Press

With guest host Kyle Stokes

Guest:

J.P. Hoornstra, MLB reporter for Southern California News Group; he tweets @jphoornstra