Every time I watch a game with my dad, the conversation is inevitable.
“These umpires suck. They should use one of those electronic eyes instead of the umpire”
I immediately think of the ominous words of HAL-9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (amended for baseball, of course).
Let me put it this way, Mr. Selig. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.
Most of the time, I dismiss the idea as impractical. My dad is always extolling the virtues of technology. He doesn't know quite how it works but he's more than willing to trust it and let it make his life easier. I, on the other hand, am more like Don Quixote brandishing his sword in a futile, and often comical, battle against the march of progress.
But yesterday after watching umpire Todd Tichenor redefine the strike zone at his whim throughout the game, I began to warm up to the idea of baseball’s version of the HAL-9000 computer calling balls and strikes. One thing’s for sure, HAL would be impartial. He would only call what he was programmed to call and he wouldn’t change the paramaters of his strike zone from one inning to the next, or as Tichenor did last night, from one pitch to the next. That kind of inconsistency just shouldn’t happen.
As HAL would put it, “It can only be attributable to human error.”
I do understand it will take the human element out of the game, but really, do we need it if it’s going to make errors and change the nature of the game and possibly it’s outcome? I saw pitches 6 inches off the plate called as strikes in this last game. Hitters like Kosuke Fukudome were forced to swing at pitches they would normally let go by. While at other times, a pitch seemingly down the middle of the plate would be called a ball. Who knows which pitch was going to catch Tichenor’s fancy that night? The human element took some of the humans, the ones we pay to watch, out of their element today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the loss on the umpiring. I’m just saying it’d be nice to give the players a consistent idea of what the strike zone is.
What’s more, you could still technically argue balls and strikes. Can you imagine an argument between Milton Bradley and the HAL-900?
Milton Bradley: What? That pitch was outside! You’ve got to call that a ball!
HAL: I'm sorry, Milton. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Milton Bradley: You’ve got to be kidding me! Are you blind or something?!
HAL: Look Milton, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
Milton Bradley: @^!! *&$%@!
HAL: Milton, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.
(Bradley then gets escorted off the field after a failed attempt to disconnect HAL)
It works for me. Or maybe I’m just frustrated after losing 4 out of the last 5 to two of the worst teams in baseball. Maybe having HAL umpire the games would have hurt the Cubs as much as it would have helped them. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected how I enjoyed the game. But I don’t think so. I think an infallible umpire would allow me to place the blame right back where it belongs: on the very fallible players, on the human element of the game who we expect to be prone to occasional errors. Those are the kinds of mistakes that should affect the outcome of the game. Let’s let the players decide who wins.
Or as HAL would put it, “This (game) is too important for me to allow you (umpires) to jeopardize it.”
Maybe my dad is right. We've been replacing factory workers with robots for years. We have GPS systems telling us how to find the nearest restaurant. We have ATMs to dispense us money. Maybe it's time baseball and I got with the program.
Still, as we know, HAL eventually tried to hijack the mission. Could it happen in baseball? Could we see technology hijack the game we all love? The truth is I don't know the answer to that question. But if it doesn't work out, we can always pull the plug...right?