Take him out of the ballgame? That would seem to the logical conclusion when it comes to home plate umpires if the decision is based on accuracy in calling balls and strikes. But in a game built on tradition, there’s more at play than being 100 percent correct.
In the latest look at how technology could potentially alter yet another sport, HBO gets in on the ongoing debate over whether it’s time for baseball’s lovably blind yet nostalgically perfect umpires to give way to computer pitch trackers.
A new episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” airs Tuesday night, and former player and Major League Baseball analyst Eric Byrnes is the protagonist saying the time has come to give in to the data.
“They used to not hit with batting helmets. They used to not let Latin or African Americans play baseball. They used to travel on trains. The world’s evolving. It happens,” Byrnes says about the sacred nature of not messing with America’s pastime.
But Jerry Crawford, a Major League umpire for 34 years, says “Traditions make the game of baseball” and he doesn’t care what the math professor from Yale thinks. Toby Moskowitz is that professor, and he analyzed every pitch — about a million of them — over the last 3 1/2 years for MLB.
According to HBO, Moskowitz found found that since 2013, the umpires are only about 88 percent accurate, getting one out of every eight ball/strike calls wrong, which adds up to more than 30,000 mistakes a year.
In the trailer for the episode, Byrnes suits up as home plate ump for a minor league game. He calls the game with the help of several cameras and a technician relaying calls to him via an earpiece. He said afterward that the game looked and felt just like any other game we’ve ever watched, with one exception. “There’s wasn’t one blown call,” Byrnes said.
HBO said in its news release that it couldn’t get the league or any players to talk on the record about umpire mistakes. But GeekWire heard from several players and members of the Seattle Mariners organization when we put the question to them in July before the Sports Tech Summit. Watch here:
And watch “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” on HBO on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.