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Kolakowski: Robot Umpires are Long Overdue

| Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Steven Matz delivered a fastball to Bryce Harper that appeared to be elbow-high when it reached the mitt of catcher Wilson Ramos. Home plate umpire Mark Carlson called the pitch a strike during the fourth inning of the series opener between the Mets and the Phillies on Monday night.

Harper, the right fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, expressed his frustration with the call. “Oh my God,” he appeared to say as he rolled his eyes toward the infield. The slugger then stepped back into the batter’s box and took a called strike three from the Mets’ left-hander.

The slugger lowered his bat and sulked back to the dugout. As he returned to his teammates, Harper looked back to Carlson and expressed his frustration with the high pitch that appeared to cost him a strike.

That could have been the end of the dispute, but Harper would not relent. Four batters later, Cesar Hernandez stepped up to the plate with the Phillies trailing 2-1. Matz delivered another fastball that appeared to be elbow-high, just above the strike zone. Carlson called the pitch a strike, and Hernandez looked back at the umpire in confusion to confirm that the pitch was high.

Carlson quickly turned toward the Phillies dugout, lifted his mask and waved his arm to eject a player from the game. He pointed toward Harper to specify who exactly was getting tossed from the contest.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler stormed onto the field to argue with Carlson, and Harper quickly joined him in the screaming match. Harper was heated, but he ultimately left the field after going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on the night. Philadelphia went on to lose 5-1 to New York.

Following the game, Phillies starting pitcher Jake Arrieta expressed his frustration with Harper’s ejection.

“He’s got to understand we need him in right field. I don’t care how bad the umpire is,” Arrieta said. “He wasn’t great for either side. I’m out there trying to make pitches and he misses some calls. So what? We need him out there.”

Arrieta was displeased with Harper’s ejection, and he is right that bad calls are part of baseball. The human element of an umpire to call balls and strikes has existed throughout the sport’s history, but it does not need to stay that way.

Carlson and Harper demonstrate why the sport needs change. It is time to bring in electronic umpires.

Pitch-tracking technology creates an exact strike zone and pinpoints where the pitches cross home plate. This technology shows that Harper had every right to be frustrated with the second called strike in his fourth inning at-bat. Similarly, it shows that Harper was probably right about the called strike against Cesar Hernandez, although he probably should not have been chirping Carlson from the dugout.

This pitch-tracking technology makes it possible to remove the human error from the difficult job of calling balls and strikes. There is no reason to allow the imperfect work of home plate umpires to continue if better options are available.

This entire situation with Harper could have been avoided, and a superstar that fans expect to see at the ballpark could have remained on the field if not for this ridiculous argument about pitch location.

Forget tradition. Forget the idea that a human umpire must call balls and strikes simply because that’s the way it always has been. It is time for change, so bring on the robot umpires.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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