Robot umpires make debut in minor league All-Star Game

Robot umpires make debut in minor league All-Star Game

Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere, left, crouches behind catcher James Skelton during the Atlantic League All-Star Game on Wednesday. The umpire wore an earpiece, which was connected to an iPhone in his baseball bag, to call balls and strikes.


YORK, Pa. — Reboot the umpire!

It doesn't have the same ring as the old baseball axiom, "kill the umpire," but baseball introduced its newest technology Wednesday night at the Atlantic League All-Star Game -- robot umpires.

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The independent league became the first American professional baseball league to use a computerized system to call balls and strikes, the York Daily Record reported.

To fans watching from the stands, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. York pitcher Mitch Adkins threw the first pitch of the game and home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere signaled "strike one." However, the call was made by a computerized radar system, the newspaper reported.

DeBrauwere wore an earpiece that was connected to an iPhone and made the call after receiving a signal from a TrackMan computer system, according to The Associated Press.

The call originates from the press box. An official monitors a laptop that runs the radar system, according to the Record. The system electronically determines whether the pitch is a ball or strike, and the information is relayed to the home plate umpire's wireless earpiece.

Atkins, who pitched the first inning of Wednesday's game, did not seem convinced about the new technology, wondering whether the robot's strike zone would be consistent. There also was a slight delay in some pitches, Atkins told the newspaper.

"Some of the pitches they call strikes (now) don't look like strikes. It looks like a ball and TrackMan calls it a strike," Atkins told the Record. "It's just different.

"Every pitch I've thrown (high in the strike zone) has been a ball my whole career, since I was 6 years old, until now. It's different to see them called a strike.

"I like the human umpire, but I've been playing a long time," Atkins told the Record."I'm old school."

The umpires do have the option to override the computer's call and still will make calls on checked swings, according to the AP.

There was still some trepidation, however.

"One time I already had caught the ball back from the catcher and he signaled strike," pitcher Daryl Thompson told the AP. Thompson said he did not realize a robot was making the calls until he disagreed with one.

"This is an exciting night for MLB, the Atlantic League, baseball generally," Morgan Sword, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of economics and operations, told the AP. "This idea has been around for a long time and it's the first time it's been brought to life in a comprehensive way."

At one point later in the game, deBrauwere's earpiece stopped working and he had to call each pitch, the Record reported.

The umpire admitted the experience was strange.

"If you ask a baseball purist, they'll hate it," deBrauwere told the Record. "They love the manager coming out of the dugout and yelling at the home plate umpire. They love the hitter telling the umpire he's wrong after he strikes out.

"This system will completely change all that."