Bring on the robots!
Jonah Keri forwards me a good example of the strike zone problem. Observe:
As stated, either they’re both balls, or they’re both strikes. And yet, not. This was a key moment in a 4-3 game against a team that the Rays need to beat. This sort of thing happens all the time. Occasionally, it gets really bad, and you have an umpire who takes over the game with his strike zone. Most of the time, it’s a relative few mistakes. But if an umpire gets ninety-five percent of strike calls right, you’re still talking about ten or fifteen bad calls a game. That can easily be a deciding factor if they come at the wrong time.
The answer, presumably, is a machine. Assuming we can get one that reacts fast enough and can think in three dimensions, anyway. The umpires and their supporters would answer, presumably, (a) that we’re taking the human element out of the game, and (b) that they tried that before and it didn’t work. As for (a), I personally have never been one who thought that the “human element” was necessarily worth preserving when it meant making mistakes; the “human element” is supposed to be the pitcher and the batter; nobody goes to the ballpark to watch an umpire make mistakes. As for (b), they tried it thirty years ago with essentially the same technology as automatic door openers. I think we’ve come a ways since then.
As for tradition, tennis is if anything even more tradition-bound than baseball, and yet they’ve adopted replay and sensor technology for baseline calls. Traditions change.