Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters and others like the human side


Matt Wieters and fellow Baltimore Orioles catchers are fans of umpires – over robots.

FanFest is always a great event for the Baltimore Orioles and their fans, and yesterday’s version of it was no different. I’ll admit however, it was a bit strange talking about “this year” (in the form of 2016), while it’s still 2015! The backdrop of the holiday season is something new, however it was also certainly a nice touch.

Of all the things which were said at the various forums, it was a few minutes of the catchers’ forum (with Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph, and a couple of Orioles’ farm hands) that interested me the most. MASN’s Gary Thorne (who led the forum) brought up the point that MLB is considering starting to consider the use of robotic technology to call balls and strikes. Mind you, this idea is in it’s infancy, and it’s not something that’s even close to behind decided.

To a man, each player responded by saying that they’d be against that idea. Most of them invoked the concept of how it would take the human element away from the game. Wieters even went so far as to say that if they can replace human beings with robots to umpire games, then they could do the same with players one day. That may have been a tongue-in-cheek joke, however point well taken.

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  • The manner in which Thorne described the idea was similar to the technology that used in the sport of tennis to decipher if the ball was on the line or not. It’s my understanding that FIFA also used a similar concept on their goal lines in the previous World Cup so as to see if a goal was scored on a close play. However I would submit that this would be a totally different idea if MLB decided to go in this direction.

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    Balls and strikes is a major part of the game – I’d say that 90% of the calls in the game are balls and strikes. You’re roboticizing a huge amount of it by introducing that type of technology. You would still need a home plate umpire for plays at the plate and to operate the machine, however in my view not only would this remove the human element from the game, but it would also send a bad message about people not being valued as much as robots.

    And here’s the other, more sinister side of this. Can technology not be corrupted? As much as we hear about computer hackers and so forth, would you be surprised if one or more teams tried to get into the technology and perhaps alter the recgnized strike zone? That might sound a bit more outrageous than people are willing to admit; however you never discount possibilities.

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    Ironically, I was and still am a proponent of instant replay. That’s technology that in my view has bettered the game, because it’s allowed concrete calls that were done incorrectly to be overturned. Balls and strikes were always judgement calls. I’m the first one to say that many umpires have roving zones and that it gets to be a problem, however the fact is that’s a part of the game. And even with replay, it’s still ultimately a human being making the decision – not a machine.

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    I suspect that this technology is coming at some point. Perhaps it’s something they try out in spring training one year or something along those lines. And I suspect that most catchers on other teams would have similar opinions to Wieters and Joseph. Time will tell.