Good Evening
Good Evening

The Column: Major leagues testing robot umpires? Bad call.

Things not bad enough?

Still standing despite pandemic, gas prices and political cage fighting?

Unbowed by the quirky U.S. senator from Arizona with thigh-high boots and purple wig, Season 2 "Ted Lasso" withdrawal and worries about what the grandkids are doing on Instagram?

How about this?

Organized baseball is experimenting with robots — its own whizbang version of the Tin Man.

Submitted for discussion here is the Automated Ball-Strike System, clever technology that instantly judges the location of each pitch.

Word is passed via earphones to the home-plate umpire who, poor sap, is required to announce the machine’s decision — a woeful exercise in planned obsolescence familiar to any veteran employee who has trained a college graduate knowing the kid soon will steal his job.

Baseball’s brain trust installed ABS Hawk-Eye optical tracking devices last season in some Low-A Southeast League parks (Florida) and tested TrackMan radar a couple years ago in the Atlantic League of the Long Island Ducks. "You can’t argue with a robot, right?" observed manager Wally Backman.

The idea, evidently, is to eliminate imperfection — an enterprise that science and religion have been pursuing for 2,000 years without notable success. Just look, for instance, at male-pattern baldness and the Biblical injunction against lust, grand larceny and sleeping late on the Sabbath.

But hope lives eternal and, with ABS, baseball bigwigs continue their brave quest for consistency. "It delivers a standardized product," explained Rick White, Atlantic League president, in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Wait. A "standardized product"?

Is that what we expect from the mortals in home whites and visiting grays struggling to win more games than they lose? Are we paying imperial prices for admission in hopes that the fellows on the field — players and umps — will be predictable as a Big Mac?

Errors are part of the game — Earth to Baseball! — and why we love it so. Has this escaped the people in charge?

Let’s calm down and search for higher meaning.

In response to a New Yorker magazine article called "Kill the Umpire," a letter writer said: "More than any other sport, baseball is a game of failure, and umpires fail, too." Besides, the reader continued, if umps become irrelevant, he’d miss the "secretly delicious outrage of being wronged" by a call against his club. Exactly.

No one is likely to say so, but, while occupying stadium seats better suited to harsh interrogation techniques and poking hopelessly for a decent toy in the Cracker Jack box, we are prepared also to observe the remarkable human capacity for slip-ups because — why? — we bungle things so often ourselves.

The shortstop boots a ground ball; we ignore that little leak in the basement and now must hope the neighbor has a wet vac. Batter strikes out four times in one night; that’s us having one margarita too many and abruptly dancing the "Hokey Pokey."

But, hold on, lookit’ there! Our favorite slugger has connected. The ball, more thrilling in flight than a billionaire’s spaceship, is gone, goodbye. Home run — happy day, assurance, after all, that while we stumble, we recover and succeed, sometimes wildly. Today’s axiom: Trial before triumph.

Anyone listening?

Baseball owners are considering ways to streamline the game, smooth the edges, amp it up because, they are convinced, in a time of Siri-speed and next-day delivery, younger consumers will accept nothing less.

Fellas, hate to say it, but you will not lure otherwise reluctant 20-somethings with an accelerated version of a slo-mo game any more than Scientific American will boost its youth readership by running personality profiles on Jay-Z or Katy Perry.

Oh, nuts. Remain calm, I tell myself. The World Series is nigh and then baseball will be over for another year. For now, there appears no immediate danger of robots invading Citi Field anytime soon.

Still, it is never too early to fret — and not just if you’re a grumpy old-timer, either.

Think about Javier Baez, the Mets’ megabucks second baseman who likely soon will test the free-agent market.

Baez, known as an outstanding fielder, still committed 24 errors in the 2021 campaign — tied for first in the majors.

Oh-oh, careful, pal. First comes the auto-umpire. Next the boss may consider swapping you for a tin can with fancy optics, wireless headset and better hands.

More Lifestyle