The rise of the robots is coming in Major League Baseball (MLB) but not everyone is happy with the potential implementation of the Automated Balls and Strikes System (ABSS).
The system, which has been dubbed “robot umpires” on social media, has left fans divided over whether they welcome this change to baseball, with some threatening to boycott the game if it gets the green light.
It has been a long time coming, with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaking on The Carton Show with Craig Carton in October 2022, saying that versions of ABSS were already being trialed.
He said at the time: “I think you are going to see the automated system in one form or the other.
“We are using two forms in the minor leagues—one where every pitch is called by a machine and the second one is a challenge system, it takes about four seconds per challenge.
“I think in one form or the other there’s a good chance we will be using it at the big league level at some point.”
MLB’s intent to expand the experiment with robot umpires to all 30 Triple-A ballparks this season was first reported by ESPN.
It is now in the hands of the team owners to decide whether this will be installed across MLB.
The experiment started in the independent Atlantic League in 2019.
A challenge system was then tried in 2022 at Low-A in which a pitcher, batter or catcher had the right to appeal a human umpire’s decision to the computer call.
Despite it being deemed a success, Manfred said in June 2022 that there were still some situations that need to be considered in the use of robot umpires, but still believes it will be coming to major leagues in 2024.
He said last summer: “There are difficult issues surrounding the strike zone that affect outcomes on the field, and we need to make sure we understand those before we jump off that bridge.”
Some fans have labeled the proposed change a huge turn-off and some have said they would be done with the sport if owners agree to its use.
One fan wrote on Twitter: “Baseball used to have charm. And we will miss the interaction of managers and the home plate umpire.”
Another was adamant that they would boycott the sport, tweeting: “If the MLB implements robot umpires I won’t watch Baseball anymore.”
A third stated: “Robot umpires will not fix baseball. Here I stand.”
While another was unhappy with the changes, asking on Twitter: “Why are we trying to ruin the game?”
A fifth baseball fan pointed out: “The human element is part of the game. I’m definitely a hypocrite because I love replay; had they had it in 85 my cards would have 12 rings, not 11. Robot umpires is completely different. Part of the art of baseball is painting corners and framing. Automated zone destroys that.”
Robot umpires were used in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last season and El Paso Chihuahuas manager Jared Sandberg thought it worked out reasonably well.
He said: “They’ve had to lower the high strike, they’ve made some adjustments throughout the season.
“I know there’s been some times where there’s been some frustrating calls, a ball clipped the zone or clipped the corner, or is off the plate and clips the line. So there has been some frustration, but it has brought some consistency to the game .”
Sandberg said there was a definite bonus from ABSS as there was less complaining from the players.
He said: “It’s just less barking and chirping from the players, you can’t yell at a robot umpire.”
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