Yelling at the umpire is as much a part of baseball as peanuts, Cracker Jack, and hating the Red Sox. But a new generation of umpires may be completely immune to people shouting “You’re blind, ump!” from the stands.
That’s because the new generation of umps don’t have ears or even eyes to call balls and strikes. Robots have arrived at home plate, and while they haven’t come to Major League Baseball yet, they may very well be the future of baseball.
At the independent Atlantic League’s all-star baseball game on Wednesday, the “electronic strike zone” made its professional baseball—and American—debut. According to Yahoo Sports, the robotic umpire, called TrackMan, helped home-plate umpire Brian deBrauwere assess whether pitches were balls or strikes via an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket. The iPhone was loaded up with the TrackMan computer system, which uses a Doppler radar to track the pitches. deBrauwere, positioned right behind home plate, called the pitches as he received the information from the program.
As the program is still being tested (and it could be a long while before human umpires are replaced by computers), a human still needs to be nearby in case TrackMan fails to pick up a pitch or fails. For what it’s worth, the MLB claims the technology is intended to help busy home-plate umpires and pinky swears that human umps are still needed and is working with the union to keep everyone happy.
Meanwhile, the players don’t seem to mind the technology, with one pitcher telling the AP that TrackMan called high strike zone pitches that human umpires frequently miss. Of course, players will only agree with the umpire until they disagree with the call, but that’s just part of baseball.
Here’s what it looked like on the field: