Bring on MLB’s Robot Umpires Already

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said robot home plate umpires are unlikely for 2025

An illustration of an MLB manager arguing with a robotic umpire.

MLB managers will inevitably be arguing with robotic umpires.

By Evan Bleier

Everyone makes mistakes — especially officials, umpires and referees in professional sports.

After all, to err is human and, even though sometimes we don’t like to regard them as such, the people who call balls, strikes, fouls and penalties are flesh and blood, just like the players they are watching and the fans who are watching them.

In Major League Baseball, and perhaps to a degree in the National Football League with optical tracking for line-to-gain rulings set to replace traditional sideline chain gangs, it’s pretty clear that human umpires are an endangered species as MLB has been experimenting with robot umps for years — and fans are into it.

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Even though the writing is on the wall, for better and more likely for worse during the adjustment period directly after robo umps are introduced, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this week that robot home plate umpires are unlikely for 2025 due to “technical issues” that have cropped up. “We haven’t made as much progress in the minor leagues this year as we sort of hoped at this point. I think it’s becoming more and more likely that this will not be a go for ’25,” Manfred said.

According to Manfred, a big issue with the automatic ball-strike system, or ABS for short, is what shape the system would be programmed to recognize as the strike zone. “The shape of the strike zone, we have not started those conversations [with players] because we haven’t settled on what we think about it,” Manfred said. “Hard to have those conversations before you know what you’re thinking.”

Those conversations should be had sooner rather than later, as the robot umpires are coming — and they may as well just get here already because, much like the pitch clock that arrived last year to an equal mix of complaints and fanfare, robo umps will take some time to get used to. There will be grievances, tweaks and growing pains as mistake-prone humans like Joe West are replaced by the (mistake-prone?) ABS, but the replacement is happening one way or the other. Just like ripping off a Band-Aid, taking out the trash or flossing, may as well get it over with.

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