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ROBOT UMPIRES: MLB’s experiment for Spring Training sounds great on paper … but boring in execution

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MLB fans should embrace the time-tested arguments between players and the home-plate umpire. 'Robot' technology for balls-and-strike calls could be coming to baseball's regular season -- sooner than later.

When Major League Baseball recently announced that ‘robot umpires’ would be calling balls and strikes during Spring Training, my mind started racing with wonderful images of Terminator II-style technology ruling over home plate … you know, similar to whenever Robert Patrick’s “T-1000” character would quickly regenerate through a liquid-metal conversion process.

Or at the very least, that famous TV episode of The Simpsons where killer robots briefly took over Itchy & Scratchy Land, before Homer and the family skillfully disarmed the machines with simple flash photography.

However, the reality of MLB’s landmark experiment is actually quite boring.

There won’t be any 6-foot-tall robots standing behind home plate, avoiding mindless small talk with the catchers and hitters (like normal human beings).

There won’t be any hologram images of robots or maybe a character from the original Star Wars trilogy confirming replay calls.

And there won’t be any tractor-beam rays shooting from the center-field scoreboard back toward home plate, as a means of thrilling the audience with a laser show … and live baseball!

Instead, the game will look exactly the same as always, whether watching from the stands or on TV.

The only difference: The home-plate umpire will reportedly be armed with simple ear buds and an iPhone, as he takes direction from a system of three invisible radar trackers all converging onto the hitting zone (chest to knees), guaranteeing uber-efficiency with each call.

And get this, if the robot umpire should make a mistake, the real umpire has the power to veto the original determination.

But even that promises to be a peaceful process … between man and machine, since only the MLB Central Command people would likely know of any discrepancies.

On paper, robot umpires are probably a great thing for the hitters and pitchers, and maybe even the fans, since they’re likely to get home 10-12 minutes earlier from every game, on average.

However, from an entertainment perspective, it falls a little flat. In fact, from a critics’ standpoint, it might even enhance the drudgery of baseball.

Remember the halcyon days of baseball, such as the glorious 1980s, when hot-under-the-collar managers would enthrall the masses by vociferously arguing umpire calls?

Now that we have Instant Replay for close-shave finishes along the base paths (and home plate), or outfield putouts that might have involved the ball first hitting the ground, there’s really nothing left to yell and scream about, from a manager’s standpoint.

And that includes Instant Replay interpretations … for which will now be explained by crew chiefs to the fans, via microphone.

In previous years, the whole point of tolerating certain umpires stemmed from the fans’ innate desire to shout, “What were you thinking?” after a controversial call.

But now … we’ll know the entire rationale, from conception to execution.

Where’s the fun in that?

Bring on the post-pitch laser show!

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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