Except, they’re not really robots. They’re human umpires wearing a Bluetooth-connected earpiece, connected to an iPhone, connected to a software programme in the press box. The software doesn’t make every call, just balls and strikes. And if it’s wrong, the human umpire, Brian deBrauwere, can step in to overrule the programme, and his decision, not the software’s, is final.
The Atlantic League, an independent circuit with seven teams on the East Coast and one in Texas, will become the first American professional baseball league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on Wednesday night in York, Pennsylvania.
“It’s amazing how good these robots look. They look just like the actual umpires,” league president Rick White joked in a phone interview before the game. “I think once people actually see this happening, they’re going to realize it’s not that big a deal.”
“Until we can trust this system 100%, I still have to go back there with the intention of getting a pitch correct because if the system fails, it doesn’t pick a pitch up or if it registers a pitch that’s a foot-and-a-half off the plate as a strike, I have to be prepared to correct that,” Mr. deBrauwere said.
It didn’t appear Mr. deBrauwere had any delay receiving the calls at first but players noticed a big difference. “One time I already had caught the ball back from the catcher and he signalled strike,” said pitcher Daryl Thompson, who didn’t realise the technology was being used until after he disagreed with a call. The umpires have the ability to override the computer, which considers a pitch a strike when the ball bounces and then crosses the zone.
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