Yes, the statement was probably made out of frustration, but Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine went a little too far when he asked that the home plate umpire in baseball be replaced by some kind of electronic device to call balls and strikes.
I am all for the use of instant replay in baseball, but only in certain situations. If you want to see if a ball was fair or foul, out of park or hit the top of the wall or was above the yellow home run line, or even if a runner was safe or out, I am all for the limited use of instant replay. But using technology to call balls and strikes instead of a human being just goes too far.
The NFL has it right: let there be a limited number of challenges. In baseball, give each manager one or two challenges per game on those clear types of play that I mentioned earlier, situations where there is a clear cut answer. Like the NFL, there will be times where the camera angle won’t be conclusive and the call made by the umpire on the field will stand. But if there is a clear cut error by an umpire, especially one that can become a game changer, by all means use the available technology to correct it.
But if we take away the power of the home plate umpire to call balls and strikes and leave it to machines we are taking away the humanity from the game. For all the advances in technology, baseball remains a game played by men and umpired by men. All men make mistakes from a muffed ground ball to blown call on a foul ball. Using technology to correct the occasional obvious mistake is one thing, having technology do it all is another story altogether.
A few years back, MLB used Ques Tec, an electronic device to determine if a pitch was in the strike zone or not. Instead of using it to call balls and strikes, it was used to grade umpires after the fact, which is the perfect use for this kind of technology. It helped make calls more uniform and consistent and made umpires aware they were being graded by an objective standard. While many umpires didn’t love the new technology, it helped them improve their game calling skills without truly undermining their authority.
Valentine’s desire to use technology instead of humans has other problems, too. All technology, regardless of how sophisticated it may be, has glitches and eventually breaks down. Any computer user can tell you that. It would be a horrible day for baseball if the software used to call balls and strikes suddenly broke down in the 5th inning of an important game, or worse yet in the bottom of the 9th inning.
In the end, there is a fine line between using technology to help people and being controlled by it. Bobby Valentine’s proposal, or wish, goes way over the line. Use technology to help correct the occasional mistake an umpire makes during a baseball game, but not to replace them.