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In an interview with ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr., Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred discussed a number of on-field changes, including robot umpires, that he would want to see implemented in the games soon.
Manfred has long been vocal about his desire to make this change, but he recently laid out some of ideas in more concrete terms than had previously been the case. He most notably threw out a possible timetable for the implementation of robot umpires or automated balls and strikes.
MLB Might Introduce Robo-Umpire by 2024
According to Engadget, Manfred said that MLB has a functional automated strike zone system. The “robot umpires” may call all balls and strikes before relaying the information to a plate umpire. They may also be a part of a replay review system that enables managers to contest calls.
Under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement for baseball, the league has the authority to make unilateral rule changes as long as it gives the union a season’s notice. Manfred had stated that since the new competition committee won’t meet until 2023, such a system wouldn’t be implemented the following year. When it does meet, though, the committee-which is reportedly dominated by ownership-is extremely likely to approve the reforms.
Is There a Reason for Having Robot Umpires?
Engadget mentioned that the remarks follow criticism from fans of the umpires for recent errors, such as a devastating low strike call during a game between the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins.
Enough is enough. Give me robo umps already https://t.co/Zsc8yBI9F4
— Jamal Spencer (@JamalSpencerTV) May 31, 2022
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Robo-Ump Experiments Have Been Going On Since 2019
It’s difficult to call balls and strikes while facing 100 mph fastballs and hard-breaking curveballs that are caught outside the strike zone. Fans, commentators, and the league itself, however, believe that machines should take over, leaving the plate umpire to evaluate tagging and other more subjective plays.
According to MLB data, mechanical technologies also dramatically cut the length of Atlantic league games by a full nine minutes.
Yahoo! Sports also reported that “Manfred again banged the drum of a pitch clock”, under which pitchers would receive 14 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 18 or 19 seconds with runners on base. As per ESPN, there are currently 23.8 seconds between pitches on average, and according to MLB, games will be shortened by an average of 30 minutes.
MLB added that the clocks have been utilized in the minor leagues for a time with positive results.
Possible Expansion of MLB
ESPN reported that Manfred said that he “would love to get to 32 teams” and hinted that some billionaires would be interested in acquiring an additional franchise.
Despite its many issues, league sources claim that baseball has increased in popularity and is now worth more than $10 billion annually, up from $8 billion when Manfred took over as commissioner. Additionally, owners praised Manfred’s 2020 restructure of the minor leagues. In fact, during the past 10 years, franchise valuations had more than quadrupled.
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