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Since the dawn of sports, an umpire, referee or other official has been on the scene to blow a call. Baseball umpires in particular, have already had a troublesome year and the season is still young. It’s a thankless job and if an umpire does well, no one hears or speaks about it; but oh how the kingdom crashes if he’s anything less than perfect.

Umpires and the human element that they represent are held to an impossible standard. But when perfection is impossible and nothing below it is acceptable, all that’s left is a broken business model that could start to damage the integrity of the game.  Major League Baseball is focused on increasing umpire productivity and accountability by way of fines, suspensions and a ranking system. But no matter how much this helps, if at all, it still won’t be good enough. Old-fashioned loyalists may argue that the aura of the game will be tarnished with an increased instant replay presence. While I’m all for tradition, in this case I choose innovation (fans that remember Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that should have been – will likely agree). For the same reasons people don’t use rotary phones or horse and buggies any more, to forgo camera-technology in baseball would be to miss a game-changing opportunity. It’s not 1875 anymore and attendance at the ballpark is down, blown calls are up, and fans are content to channel-surf massive HD TV’s from the couch rather than battle traffic and pay to park at the stadium only to sit on uncomfortable plastic seats./wp-content/uploads/2013/07/baseball_large_300x200_243456.png

Even the naysayers can’t argue with the accuracy of camera-technology like the Hawk-eye officiating system currently evolving the game of tennis with its ball-tracking technology – surely this can be configured for baseball? Unfortunately, the cynics believe this will only increase game delays. Baseball is relaxed enough, does replay really need to be this slow? Human Genome analysis that used to take 2 days can be done in 20 minutes, surely we can solve the balls vs. strikes or homeruns vs. foul balls mystery in a legitimate instant?

A future pairing between ball-tracking technologies powered by an in-memory data cruncher like SAP HANA would seemingly fit like a glove. When it comes to analytics and sabre-metrics, fans now have the same visibility as managers, thanks to solutions provided by MLB. With such a proactive leap to engage fans and enhance the game-viewing experience, I’m confident MLB will go all the way, embedding ball-tracking technology into the game to create a truly unprecedented digital experience.

With analytics in-place to optimize the game and big-data ball-tracking technology to potentially officiate the game, adding mobility to the equation assures the 5-4-3 triple play. The future I see doesn’t have umpires or instant replay. Instead I see real-time result analysis determined by resolute machines that crunch big-data fast, accurately, and without bias, all of which can be tracked on your favorite mobile device.Picture a ballpark experience similar to what the 49ers are gearing toward where a mobile device is the key to a perfect game: 


  • Mobile check-ins get fans to their seats faster
  • Mobile snack orders delivered to seats mean fans never miss a play
  • Predictability polling allows fans to test their baseball IQ’s and compete against other fans, pitch by pitch
  • Real-time calls calculated by multiple cameras, automatically delivered to mobile devices
  • Live views from stadium cameras put every seat “in the game” and shows shortest bathroom line
  • Personalized offers ensure fans are alerted on apparel discounts and where to go right when their favorite player hits a homerun

All of these features can be made available through the stadium’s wifi. So fans can just sit back, relax, and embrace the purity of a game determined solely by the players and optimized by technology.

How do you envision the future baseball experience? Do you favor increased replay presence?

If you’ve missed the pitch with my previous articles, follow @airsomers for the instant replay

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3 Comments

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  1. Jeff Durnwald

    Love the topic and the article.

    Call me old school, but getting it right EVERY time is not as important as keeping the immediate human decision that an umpire delivers.  Over the course of 162 games, the best teams do rise to the top despite incorrect calls, so I don’t think you will see revolutionary changes in results if technology is used to make decisions.  That being said, the fan experience improvements are great and will definitely lead to increased satisfaction of attending the games..

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    1. Ryan Somers Post author

      I hear you Jeff, and I agree… an immediate decision is more important than ensuring it’s the right decision.  This is nature in western thinking… “better to do something now that may be wrong, than to wait or potentially not do anything at all.”  However, what if it could be immediate AND right every time? 

      I realize that we’re a few years off to say the least, but my question is… Is it the human decision you’re in favor of?  Or better yet, will the game lose a bit of its luster if techology takes over the governance?

      Current logic suggests it surely would be strange to have human players governed by machines… maybe the furthest leap would involve robotic players that will be errorless, just like the governance?  Now that to me, would be tech-overload.

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      1. Jeff Durnwald

        Hi Ryan –

        Good points.  There are some calls that are objective (balls/strikes, fair/foul, HBP, safe/out), but there are others that are subjective (infield fly, did the batter try to get out of the way of the pitch, interference).  Can technology handle them all?  Maybe, but its hard to see it.  What separates baseball/sports from a shop floor is that it is entertainment and doesn’t HAVE to be perfect.  I pretty much fall on the side of this guy – especially if the “punch-out” moves disappeared.  http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/7/8/942170/the-case-for-human-umpires

        Strangely, I would really like to get to a point where NFL referees are obsolete – that would be great!

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