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Calling a ball a ball and a strike a strike

Bobby Valentine says that’s the way he wants it.

A day after being ejected, Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was still steamed about umpiring, and said technology should be used to eliminate human error in calling balls and strikes.

“I want a ball called a ball and a strike called a strike. Figure out how to do it,” Valentine said before his team began a series Monday at Miami.

Valentine, upset with plate ump Al Porter, launched a tirade with two outs in the ninth inning of Sunday’s loss to Washington. The Red Sox dropped all three games in the series, and Valentine said his frustration about the way pitches were called built through the weekend.

But he said he has long been in favor of using technology to get such calls right. Covering the Little League World Series as a network announcer convinced Valentine change was needed.

“It was the most criminal thing I ever saw,” he said. “I wanted to cry when a kid, in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and his team down by one run, was called out on a strike three on a pitch that was six inches outside. He couldn’t reach it with his bat. I cried for him. That kid is scarred for life playing our game by an injustice.

“And then someone says the most ridiculous words that I ever hear — ‘But we like the human factor.’ It’s criminal that we allow our game to scar a young person like that. And then it continues. I think in 2012 it should not be part of the process.”

Valentine declined to propose a specific solution, but said the technology exists to improve the accuracy of calling pitches. He said he doesn’t fault umpires, because he believes it’s impossible to see the final few feet of a pitch traveling 90 mph and sometimes breaking sharply.

I share Valentine’s feelings about “the human factor”, which stopped being charming once it became undeniable how random it is. The technology to do this any better than the umpires isn’t there yet. When you see the “K Zone” on ESPN or whatever, you’re not seeing the whole picture, because the strike zone by definition is three-dimensional. If any part of the ball passes over any part of the plate at the right height, it’s a strike. It’s just a matter of time and having enough cameras in the right places to make it feasible. The question is whether the powers that be, and that very much includes the umpires themselves, want to see this happen. Cameras are only being used in a very limited way right now, for home run calls, so there’s a long way to go before the idea of technology supplementing, or perhaps supplanting, human arbiters takes hold. I think it’s inevitable, but I believe it’s at least a decade, if not a generation, away.

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