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Baseball fans are mostly OK with the idea of robot umps

So says a poll, so it must be true.

Illustration by Martin Laksman

MLB fans, it may be time to welcome your robot overlords.

Baseball is known for its long-standing traditions, unwritten rules about players’ on-field conduct and a fan base that skews older compared to other major U.S. professional sports. A new Morning Consult survey, however, found that MLB fans are gradually entering the modern era and accepting likely changes to the sport.

A plurality of self-identified MLB fans (48%) said they support the implementation of an automated ball and strike system, also known as “robo umps,” for MLB’s 2024 season. Thirty-six percent of fans said they do not support such a system, which Commissioner Rob Manfred floated as a possibility in a wide-ranging ESPN interview last month.

[…]

The future of baseball

  • Half of MLB fans said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” an automated ball and strike system that calls every pitch during a game and relays the balls and strikes to a human home plate umpire via an earpiece. There’s slightly more support (55%) for a replay review system of balls and strikes, which would allow each manager to challenge several calls per game.
  • While self-identified sports fans showed slightly less enthusiasm for robo umps than MLB fans did, a clear plurality still supported the concept. Of the options included in the survey, regular sports fans showed the most support for in-game manager challenges at 54%.
  • More than half of MLB fans (54%) said they are “very interested” or “somewhat interested” to watch a game in which a home plate umpire receives balls and strikes through an earpiece, while 56% expressed interest in watching games featuring manager challenges.

I’m basically fine with the robo-ump scheme. The tech still needs some work, as well as some refinements to the rulebook strike zone, which is not called that way and would be very unpopular if it were. Back in 2020, I figured it would be five to ten years for robo umps; the current CBA allows for them to be implemented as soon as 2024. I think I’d be happier starting with a challenge system first, but we’ll see what we get. In any event, if you’re a traditionalist, don’t expect a wave of fan sentiment to carry your preference for you.

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2 Comments

  1. mollusk says:

    This power grab by our robot overlords is further proof that the designated hitter was just an early step in the decline of civilization (**sigh…**)

  2. Kris Overstreet says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Usd5D-XsX0

    Begin at 6:55 and consider what we’re losing (or gaining) by robot umps.