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Should Technology Call the Game?

that robot from the JetsonsAs pointed out in the last thread, the past week has not been kind to officials. Starting with the questionable “roughing” the passer call against Terrell Suggs in the Ravens-Patriots game and climaxing with umpire Phil Cuzzi‘s blown foul ball call a few nights ago, we’ve been reminded in a sudden and dramatic way that the folks who call the games are, indeed, human.

In the case of Cuzzi’s mistake, one result has been a predictable call for more use of technology to take judgment calls out of the hands of umpires. Here’s one example and here’s another.

File them in the “shortsighted, wrongheaded” folder with all of the other calls for more instant replay, more cameras, more sensors, etc.

Let’s forget for now the argument in favor of the human element. I happen to agree with that, but it’s one of those debates neither side will ever win. So instead let’s focus solely on the question of whether or not more technology would improve the game of baseball.

Proponents say that the technology will be more “right” than human eyes. In small sample sizes and specific situations that might be true. Applied on a broad scale, though, it breaks down.

Because if you think technology is infallible then clearly you’ve never used a computer. Never suffered data loss or a hit to productivity because things didn’t work the way they were supposed to. Clearly you don’t own a cell phone. Never experienced a dropped call or a text message that didn’t arrive as planned. And you obviously don’t own a Sidekick.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m as much a proponent of technology as anyone. I have a Mac and an iPhone, I use cloud-based computing services, etc. All of it. And it’s precisely because I do believe in technology that I’m saying that bringing more of it to baseball is a bad idea.

By shifting to a tech-based system, you add a point of failure. Presently there is one: the man making the call. Shifting to technology means two: the people who design the system and the system itself.

Think of all the variables that would go into designing an automated system to call balls and strikes. All of the decisions that engineers and coders would have to make, and all of the problems they’d face in doing so. I realize the networks already have pitch tracking systems, but that’s still quite different from a system designed to work in-game.

As for replay, think of the problems the NFL still has with it despite the fact that they’ve been using the system for years. It’s video evidence, sure, but it’s still subject to human interpretation. They still get it wrong.

Start fleshing it out and even the variables have variables. If baseball goes to replay, how do they implement it? Who makes the final calls? It goes on, and for what? To potentially correct the relatively small handful of calls that umpires miss in a given game, series, or season?

We’ll never find ourselves in a situation where every call is right. It isn’t possible, and I’m not actually convinced that it’s desirable (sports is not science). While bad officiating is not acceptable, and it deserves to be called out when it happens, the scale of the problem is nowhere near large enough to warrant remaking the fundamental structure of the game.

In other words, relax. The umpires and referees miss calls. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t. It’s part of the game, and I’ve yet to see a truly compelling argument that it shouldn’t stay that way.

10 comments to Should Technology Call the Game?

  • Andrew

    I certainly don’t want a robot calling safe or out, ball or strike. I think that that would weird at best and much more error prone than what we currently have at worst.

    But something has to give here. I’m sure that I can’t trust my memory, but this year has seen quite a few really, really dumb mistakes from umpires:

    Felix Pie tagged out by an empty glove.
    Derek Jeter thrown out “because the ball beat him to the bag”.
    Anything C.B. Bucknor does.
    Phil Cuzzi’s horrible mistake.

    And so on. There’s no way that it’s as bad as it’s being made out to be, and it’s a fact that the umpires don’t get enough credit. But, anything that can make the game-calling more accurate has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

    My solution in baseball: put a fifth umpire in the booth with the instant access to cameras that we have as viewers. Give him a buzzer that he can buzz the crew chief with when a call needs to be overturned. Tell managers that they under no circumstances argue with umpires anymore except to ask for a quick explanation.

    I have no idea why this isn’t already done except for clinging to tradition.

  • neal s

    I wouldn’t have a problem with the crew having another set of eyes upstairs. I actually think that’s the best solution I’ve heard because it doesn’t really intrude, yet it does provide a layer of accountability.

    Although I’d lose the “no arguing” part because I always enjoy it when a manager goes nuts, gets tossed, and then goes even more nuts.

  • Andrew

    Well, everyone’s always complaining about the length of the game. I couldn’t care less, so that can go.

    In AFL news (it started today, did you hear?) Keith Law’s twitter account tells me that Brandon Snyder took the first step to redemption by crushing a home run 425 feet into the thin desert air. I’ve probably overcompensated with Snyder and rate him worse off than I should…but it was nice that he’s trying to prove me wrong anyway.

  • dan the man

    I think that’s a great idea with an off-the-field ump in a booth somewhere. This should absolutely be done, tradition be damned. If it’s one thing that annoys me about umpiring in baseball, it’s that for whatever reason, nothing ever gets overturned. It’s like some kind of unspoken thing that once a decision is made, the hell with making sure it’s the right one, the ruling just stands no matter what.

  • Chuck from PA

    I’ve always be a proponent of “get the call right”, so if that means switching to electronic assistance, so be it. Just get the call right. Don’t let a game be decided by human error (or worse – biased judgement).

  • Andrew

    Anybody here watch the Baltimore Colts doc last night?

    It’s weird because I was born in 1985 after the move and I’ve been living in upstate New York for my entire adult life so far, so my connections to the Colts are flimsy at best. But it all feels so mythological, like watching Noah built his ark, or George Washington at Valley Forge, it’s hard not to be absolutely fascinated and stunned and emotionally scarred and awed by the whole thing.

    Plus can you see some city like Los Angeles doing something so weird as keeping the Baltimore Colts Marching Band? It feels like just another piece to the puzzle for me in figuring out what exactly makes Baltimore the great town it is in my head.

  • MarkH

    originally posted byAndrewAnybody here watch the Baltimore Colts doc last night?

    It’s weird because I was born in 1985 after the move and I’ve been living in upstate New York for my entire adult life so far, so my connections to the Colts are flimsy at best. But it all feels so mythological, like watching Noah built his ark, or George Washington at Valley Forge, it’s hard not to be absolutely fascinated and stunned and emotionally scarred and awed by the whole thing.

    Plus can you see some city like Los Angeles doing something so weird as keeping the Baltimore Colts Marching Band? It feels like just another piece to the puzzle for me in figuring out what exactly makes Baltimore the great town it is in my head.

    I saw it, though tit was very well done. I’m always drawn to anything about the Colts and Baltimore. I was born when they left, but was only a few years old, so I have no memories of them in Baltimore. Talking to my brother about the documentary this past weekend, he remembers watching the trucks pull out on the news and how mad he was, even being as young (8-10).

    I was thinking while watching, the whole band and keeping it together is a very “Baltimore thing” to do. I don’t know if anyone else would have done that. I have the book William Gildea wrote about Baltimore and the Colts, but have yet to read it. I really need to get on that.

  • Should Technology Call the Game?

    No*

    *But shit Umps should get relegated or canned.

  • dan the man

    @The Wayward O – Yeah exactly. Some accountability would be nice. Yet somehow Bucknor is still getting a paycheck calling major league games. Why? There’s seriously no one better for the job? Really?

  • Andrew

    @dan the man – unions unions unions