Our robot overlords are here. A sport long dominated by tradition, convention, and unwritten rules, baseball is embracing major changes entering the 2023 season – changes from which there may be no looking back from. The introduction of instant replay in the 2010s was just the start of the game’s embrace of technology. For next season, the MLB is introducing a pitch clock in an attempt to speed up the game. And perhaps, in the future, human umpires could even find themselves outmoded following the latest revolutionary change baseball is embracing.
Per Buster Olney of ESPN, all parks in Triple-A, the highest minor-league affiliate level of MLB teams, will have robot umpires. An electronic strike zone will be implemented, and The Automatic Balls and Strikes system will be introduced. Officials will then deploy this system in two different ways. The balls and strikes in half of AAA games will be determined by an electronic strike zone, and the other half will be determined by a system similar to one used in professional tennis.
Simply put, this is a change that puts baseball in uncharted territory. And for a sport long defined by its stringent traditions, change definitely won’t be the easiest thing to embrace. Thus, plenty of fans expressed their outrage on Twitter, saying that these kinds of changes “ruin” the sport.
The sport being ruined right before our eyes. Instant replay and pitch clocks are bad enough. This is transformative, and not for the better. Completely alters the very fabric of baseball, a sport that was once a timeless game.
— Phil Tortora (@PhilipTortora) January 13, 2023
Meanwhile, others rued the fact that the human element in the game – an umpire’s subjectivity, more or less, will go missing with the introduction of the robot umps. One fan, in particular, loved the nuance of having to prepare for the unpredictability of an umpire’s strike zone.
I know robo umps will make the game more fair and all that shit, but I like human ump. I love that you have to figure out their strike zone, I live pitch framing, I love the idea of expanding the zone.
Robot ump will be good but I am gonna miss humans
— Jorts Lopez (@HenryInAHammock) January 13, 2023
Context is so important, and that’s why humans are needed behind the plate. On that example, any baseball person (ump, pitcher, hitter, catcher, fan, coach, etc) knows damn well it’s not a strike, but the robot zone only knows yes or no. So limiting.
— Mario (@DeGenZGZ) January 13, 2023
Nevertheless, the overwhelming sentiment towards the introduction of robot umps appears to be extremely positive, and for good reason. In a game where even the slightest millimeter matters, it’s important to get as many calls right as possible, especially with millions at stake for Major League players. And the introduction of robot umps only helps in that regard.
I’d rather a robot ump than Angel Hernandez’s ego.
— Jake Bobo (@JakeBobo3) January 13, 2023
I’d rather it be consistent via robot, instead of “who’s the ump and what’s his mood today?”
— Brian mac (@brian99xt) January 13, 2023
— Mavs/Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) January 13, 2023
It remains to be seen when this drastic change will be implemented in the majors. It all depends on whether the implementation in Triple-A works as intended. Nevertheless, when robot umps arrive in the MLB, that will for sure be a sight to behold.