MLB TESTING ‘ROBOT UMPIRES’ IN SPRING TRAINING GAMES
Last week’s column dealt with the rules changes that will go in effect at the start
of the 2020 major league baseball season.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred continues to make changes in the game that
probably would make the game’s inventor Abner Doubleday roll over in his grave.
Most of the changes over the years have been beneficial to the game like video
replay and limiting the number of challenges of each team.
New ideas generally are tested in the minor leagues or in spring training like the
use of electronic monitoring of balls and strikes to help the home plate umpire make the
calls for ball and strikes more accurate.
The independent Atlantic League used the “Trackman System” to call balls and
strikes during the second half of the 2019 season and also during the Arizona Fall
Once again USA Today Sports Weekly has an article in this week’s issue
explaining that in 2020 MLB has switched to the more accurate “Hawk Eye” system to
call balls and strikes.
“For the next month it will call balls and strikes on top of the work done by real,
live umpires during the exhibition season,” the article points out.
“After the big leaguers head north, a two-dimensional automated strike zone will
be tested in nine spring training ballparks used in the Class A Florida State League,” the
Manfred admits the automated zone won’t receive serious consideration until
technology and accuracy improve significantly. The “Hawk Eye” is expected to move
that forward significantly, after Trackman was largely criticized in the Arizona Fall
“So, while major leaguers still hear real live balls and strikes called on the Cactus
and Grapefruit circuits, their automated future is unfolding in the background,” the article
stated. “It’s an admittedly dicey subject in a sport that’s changed at warp speed the past
Just like anything that’s new or changed, there is a lot of negativity involved with
the major leaguers, especially the pitchers and catchers.
Thirty-six-year-old veteran catcher Chris Iannetta, who is at spring training with
the New York Yankees said, “I don’t think it will make the brand of baseball better.
We’re trying to put a great game on the field, and that takes baseball players It doesn’t
take all of the auxiliary things. It doesn’t matter if the tech is 100% right or not, it’s not
Another veteran catcher, St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Wieters commented, “For me,
part of baseball is relationships. As a catcher, relationships with an umpire—good or
tough—can be what you remember most from playing days. It will be a little weird not
having as much interaction.”
Manfred told Fox Business last month that an automated strike zone will be more
accurate over the long haul. He looks for it to reduce controversy in the game for the
good of the game.
Ace Cardinals’ right-handed pitcher Adam Wainwright said probably tongue-in-
cheek, “If they ever do come out with this automated strike zone, I’m coming out of
retirement because that might be really good for a guy like me. If it actually is knee-to-
letters and they call this high strike, somebody’s going to have a freakout.”
KWICKIES…I’m continuing to toot my horn for my grandson Logan “Smitty”
Smith who logged another brilliant mound performance for Army Friday with a four-hit
nine-inning complete game, beating rival Air Force 9-1 at the double-round-robin three-
team tournament at Fayetteville, N. Car. last weekend. An error with two out in the
bottom of the ninth inning cost him another shutout, but lowered his earned run average
to 0.86 for 21 innings. Smitty will start his next game Friday against Western Michigan
in a tournament at Port Charlotte, Fla.
And not to be outdone, Judge Pat Clark’s grandson Kolbe Aven hit a grand slam
home run last week to give his high school–American Heritage—a 4-3 victory. If
Kolbe’s last name sounds familiar, his dad is Bruce Aven, a former diamond star at West
Orange-Stark, Lamar University and the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins who also
is the head baseball coach at American Heritage. Kolbe has committed to attend Furman
University on a baseball scholarship to the delight of his mother Mary Ann.
Little League decision-makers from California to Pennsylvania have started a
movement banning the “Astros” name from their youth teams as a result of the
organization’s electronic sign-stealing scandal.
The University of Houston basketball team earned a first-round bye in the
upcoming AAC tournament with their 68-55 victory over Cincinnati Sunday at Fertitta
Center. The ACC tourney is slated for March 12-15 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. The
Coogs upped their AAC record to 12-4 and their overall mark to 22-7 with one week left
in the regular season.
JUST BETWEEN US…Major league pitcher Madison Bumgarner leads a
“double life.” The Arizona Diamondbacks ace is not only great on the mound but also is
one of the best hitting pitchers in the major leagues. But his life after the baseball season
ends in October is as a professional rodeo cowboy using the alias “Mason Saunders” but
insists he was never discreet about his hobby. He won $26,560 in a team-roping event in
December at Wickenburg, Arizona. “He’s a cowboy and he’s proud of it,” said veteran
Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Jackson. “He’s probably been riding horses and doing this
his whole life.”