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October 18, 2009

Vincent: Baseball Should Train Its Own Umpires: As this continues to be a postseason defined by blown calls, former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent writes in today's New York Times that the sport's umpires need an upgrade. "Major League Baseball does not train its own umpires, and therefore it has not established practices that would attract the best people," Vincent writes. "To attract the kind of young people any business would want, Major League Baseball should establish a thoroughly professional training system for umpires -- and ensure that every official it hires is up to the job."

posted by rcade to baseball at 10:29 AM - 15 comments

Not the worst idea I've ever heard.

posted by dfleming at 10:32 AM on October 18

Although sure is hard to think that MLB would start to spend this type of money on a totally new system to replace a cheap one that has really worked reasonably well.

posted by josher71 at 11:57 AM on October 18

...spend this type of money on a totally new system to replace a cheap one...

Actually, a training system could be done at very low cost, and might even make some financial returns to the MLB umpires' union. All that needs to be done is to have candidate umpires pay for their training. After their training, if the candidates pass written and on-field exams, they would be then guaranteed jobs as "apprentices" in leagues affiliated with MLB teams. They would then be graded regularly, and if found competent would be either retained at their present level (with the apprentice tag removed after a period of time) or promoted to a higher level. If found wanting, they could be demoted or released. The trainers would be current major league umpires who would be paid for their services, and the fees could be set low enough that a season or 2 in the low minors would pay enough to offset them.

Standardized training of umpires would be of great benefit to MLB. When I was umpiring HS baseball in NH, we were all apprenticed for the first year, required to go through a standardized set of classroom sessions and on-field clinics, and had to pass both the standard NFHSOA umpire's exam and an on-field game test. After that, we worked a limited varsity schedule and filled our cards out with JV and middle school work. We were also graded in each game we worked at the varsity level. By the time we got through with a few years of this, we could seamlessly work with anyone else who had been through the system. We all worked the same mechanics, knew the coverages, and understood where our partner would be in all situations. It becomes really easy to cover a game when you can trust your partner.

posted by Howard_T at 03:46 PM on October 18

I'm all for better umpiring, if it is possible. On the whole I'm pretty happy with baseball umpiring. I think balls and strikes should be turned over to a computer that immediately signals the home plate umpire of the call.

posted by DudeDykstra at 05:28 AM on October 19

I think balls and strikes should be turned over to a computer that immediately signals the home plate umpire of the call.

That will only open up the door for computers to umpire an entire game.

I agree that baseball needs better umpiring but that's where replay should be used more often. I know that baseball is already one of the slowest games out there but as long as the right call is made, I see no problem with it.

Once computers are involved in a sporting event to determine balls or strikes, there would be no more use for umpires and that's not what the game needs.

Technology has evolved so why not instill this new technology to improve the outcome of the game? It's helped tennis, basketball and football with calls but the baseball purists will always try and find a reason to keep technology away from baseball even though it's badly needed.

posted by BornIcon at 11:49 AM on October 19

BI, why are you against precision calls? I think the money involved took the romance out of baseball (and most sports at least in the US) a while back.

posted by billsaysthis at 01:06 PM on October 19

there would be no more use for umpires and that's not what the game needs

That's begging the question. Why is that necessarily so?

posted by yerfatma at 01:07 PM on October 19

BI, why are you against precision calls?

It's not that I'm against precision calls, I want the umps to get the calls right. I just don't think that having a computer calling balls or strikes is what's needed in baseball. I personally believe that there needs to be some sort of method to having replay in games if necessary due to human error.

Maybe allowing the managers to challenge a call like in football but to exclude umpires entirely is certainly something that I wouldn't want to see.

One of the things that I've heard is to have a 5th umpire sitting in a booth that can review challenges when a play is in question which is an idea I like better and can work, if used properly.

posted by BornIcon at 02:05 PM on October 19

Why should baseball have umpires if machines can do better? Do you go to or watch games to see umpires make calls or to see players play?

posted by billsaysthis at 05:18 PM on October 19

I can't see Linux tossing a manager.

posted by irunfromclones at 06:39 PM on October 19

Computers in baseball- can you imagine the hacks? I can see the headlines now... "Boston Red Sox ball boy pitches perfect game against hated rivals New York Yankees".

posted by irunfromclones at 06:42 PM on October 19

Why should baseball have umpires if machines can do better? Do you go to or watch games to see umpires make calls or to see players play?

I go to see a baseball game, which is constituted of players, umpires, managers, and coaches. If I want the experience to be conducted electronically, I'll stay home with my XBox.

posted by EnglishSpin at 10:03 PM on October 19

I go to see a baseball game, which is constituted of players, umpires, managers, and coaches. If I want the experience to be conducted electronically, I'll stay home with my XBox.

Pretty much. And in the video game version, there's still umpires in the game as well and I still can't get a call go my way when I play against the Yankees.

Damn home field advantage!

posted by BornIcon at 09:02 AM on October 20

As for computerized balls and strikes, I want nothing to do with it. (EnglishSpin put it pretty much perfectly) Similarly, why not implant sensors into the hands of offensive linemen in football (USA) - if they clench their hands too tightly, then computer chips in the sensors can detect that the linemen must be holding their opponent. Then, lights embedded into the player's helmet send a beam of yellow light streaming into the sky from his head, the equivalent of a yellow flag being thrown at the player. Then, magnets inside the ball and under the turf yank the ball out of whatever player happens to be holding it, drag the ball to 10 yards back from the spot of the foul and the clock is automatically restarted.

Wait ... crap ... this is starting to sound kinda groovy ... Anyway, NO to this computerized stuff. There are things in nearly every sport that are just never going to be fail-safe, unless we go to ridiculous extremes, and I think balls-and-strikes and determining whether a player was absolutely, 100%, definitely tagged before his foot/hand touched the base are a couple instances that fall into that. We can improve the quality of the umpiring and try to strive for consistency in strike zones, but slight variances are part of the sport (and to preempt a typical counter-argument ... unlike racial segregation or safety measures, this "part of the sport" is something I'm convinced is fine as-is).

And ... I think the money involved took the romance out of baseball (and most sports at least in the US) a while back. Then, computerized or not, umpire mistakes or not, why are you watching the game or concerned about the topic?

posted by littleLebowski at 09:36 AM on October 20

I'm interested in the discussion about using technology in sports. I like watching the athletes perform, the action, the strategy and would personally prefer that refereeing decisions be as accurate as possible.

Everyone here knows I'm not interested in baseball :) And I've never been much for seeing romance anywhere but with a desirable woman (in my case, YMMV).

posted by billsaysthis at 11:46 AM on October 20

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