Technology, Umpires and the Human Element in Baseball:

I feel like I write more about umpires than many people do, and it’s because I feel strongly that what happens on the field isn’t subject to interpretation. If a player’s foot hits a base before a glove with a ball in it touches that player, that player is entitled to the base, he’s safe, and that doesn’t change because some middle-management functionary says otherwise. If a breaking ball crosses the plate at a point between a batter’s knees and the midpoint between his shoulders and pants, it’s a strike, no matter what the anachronism behind the plate thinks he sees. In eighteendicketysix, a human being was state-of-the-art technology for making these decisions. Now, you can get better information-we do get better information-by using better technology. Championships should be decided by the players and by what actually happened, not by what somebody thinks happened.

Now, whenever I bring this up, I get a chorus and three verses of “But It Would Take the Human Element out of the Game.” My problem with this is that the complainer makes themselves heard via a global communications network, accessed via microcomputer and wireless technology, which allows their opinion to be seen by billions of people. Once done expressing themselves, and perhaps feeling peckish, they can microwave a pizza, or even research a better dinner option, using a powerful search engine that has indexed vast stores of knowledge about the human experience, the universe, and local eateries. Without moving from the spot from which they keyed in their opinion, they can read countless reviews of potential dining options. Once they settle on one, they can punch a button on their keychain to start their car, activating the seat warmers while they turn on their high-priced home-alarm system. While walking to the car, they can call their spouse using their handheld telephone to see what they would like for dinner, and when the call isn’t picked up, they can follow up by typing in a message that will arrive instantly. Inside the car, our poster uses his Global Positioning System to find the best route to his culinary choice, and punches up a station from the hundreds offered via the small unit that pulls signals from a satellite orbiting the planet. Distracted by the choice between baseball talk and light rock, he is jolted back by the beeping of his vehicle, which has sensed that he’s backing into traffic and alerted him, saving him thousands of dollars in damages and potential neck and back pain. Along the way downtown, he pays a toll not by scrambling for change but by slowing down a bit and allowing the overhead sensors to read his in-car transponder. Similarly, he pays for his dinner not with cash but with a debit card that instantly transfers the money out of his account to the resturant. Despite being a hardcore baseball fan, he drives back calmly, listening the the start of the next game on his satellite radio system-the road team’s broadcast, as he can’t stand the blowhard who does color for the home team. He pulls into his driveway, lights triggered by motion sensors so that he can park safely and walk to his door, which he opens not with a key but a keypad. Safely home, but a bit chilly, he dials up the thermostat a few degrees, takes his food and settles in front of his 52-inch high-definition television. Despite having listened to a couple innings in the car, he fires up his DVR and starts watching from the first pitch, fast-forwarding past the commercials, rewinding to take another look at his favorite player’s diving catch in the second.

Satisfied with his meal and pleased by his team’s performance, he reaches for his laptop computer, less than an inch thick and light as a feather, to rejoin the conversation. He’s pleased to find that three people who he’s never met agree with him about the role of umpires in major league baseball.

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