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Last updated 5/21/2019 at Noon

For more than a century, baseball players, managers and fans have had some kind of beef about the balls and strikes umpire behind home plate.

As a former professional pitcher myself, I can verify the fact that each umpire has his own personal strike zone when he is working behind the plate. The trick is knowing where each umpire’s favorite strike zone is located.

Very rarely can you watch a major league baseball game on television without that rectangular box being superimposed on the screen denoting the strike zone the way it is written in the baseball rules book.

And quite often a strike is called by the umpire that was outside the TV’s strike zone or more often a ball is called that obviously was inside that rectangle.

The experimentation of the electronic strike zone idea was first utilized in July, 2015 in an independent league game between the San Rafael Pacifics and the Vallejo Admirals, according to an article in

The pitch came in and milliseconds later MLB Network analyst Eric Byrnes, parked at the edge of the backstop with a computer monitor in front of him, leaned into a microphone and let out a “sterike”. It was the first pitch ever to be called by a computer in a professional baseball game.

Byrnes, who retired from Major League Baseball in 2010 but played a few games for the Pacifics in 2014, suggested the club try out PITCHf/x, the same Sportvision-designed, three-camera tracking system used by MLB Advanced Media in major league parks to collect data on pitch location, speed and movement since 2006.

Byrnes advocates the use of the system to call balls and strikes at the major league level.

But Major League Baseball and its umpires and baseball purists strongly oppose the use—or overuse—of technology in the game.

In Byrnes opinion, the automated strike zone could be used to assist, rather than replace, umpires, just as instant replay has been used. In fact, rather than eliminating umpiring jobs, it would add one. The fifth umpire would be needed to relay the computer’s calls to the home-plate ump.

“With technology, there is always some noise or uncertainty, but our system is accurate to less than an inch,” said Ryan Zander, Sportvision’s general manager of baseball products. “More often than not, it is accurate to within half an inch.

When asked about the potential use of the automated strike zone in MLB at the All-Star Game last summer, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was against it, and expressed concerns about the technology.

“It’s because of speed,” he said. “It’s because of technology limitations. It’s because, quite frankly, the strike zone is different for every single guy.”

The article points out that Manfred’s concern is a valid one because hitters often shift up and down in stances even after setting up at the plate. Sportsvision assures allowances for height and stance differences are taken into consideration.

There is a database for every hitter in MLB and a rolling average of his strike zone is preloaded into the system each time he comes to bat.

The concept is intriguing and would no doubt change the game as we know it. If MLB isn’t ready for total adoption of an electronic strike zone, Byrnes suggests a happy medium.

“Introduce the system by using it for challenge calls with two strikes,” Byrnes said. “Make it available only on outcome pitches.”

Players in that 2015 independent-league game uniformly praised the consistency of the system and even the home-plate umpires said the experiment went smoother than he thought it would and actually called it fun.

Southeast Texas baseball fans will be able to see how this electronic umpire philosophy works first hand because it will be used in the Atlantic League next month.

And one of the teams in this league is located in Sugar Land, which is only a couple hour’s drive from here.

I’m anxious to see how it works and plan to make that drive to Sugar Land next month!!

KWICKIES…I got to watch most of the Patriot Conference baseball championship series on my computer last weekend between Army and Navy. Army won Friday night 6-2, lost Saturday 4-2 and won Sunday 4-3. My grandson, Logan Smith, pitched the ninth inning and got three outs by using only eight pitches. Army gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and will know what Regional Tournament they will be playing in and their opponent when it’s announced this weekend.

It seemed obvious that Brooks Koepka played Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship not to lose instead of to win and it almost burned him after leading by seven strokes after three rounds. Lucky that Dustin Johnson has a habit of forgetting how to putt on Sunday’s and lost by only two strokes. Koepka became the sixth player since 1934 to win four majors in a three-year span, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan. Last year the 29-year-old Koepka won the PGA and U.S. Open and won the U.S. Open in 2017. He also is the first major champion in 35 years to have six bogeys in the final round and still win the tournament.

And much closer to home, former West Orange-Stark champion golfer Michael Arnaud got into the money by finishing in a tie for 13th place, firing a 66 in Sunday’s final round of the Knoxville Open on the Tour.

Although they missed the NBA playoffs this season, the Los Angeles Lakers sold out of every game and will probably do the same for 2019-20, according to Magic Johnson, who was a guest of Monday’s First Take on ESPN. He said he would love to buy the team if it ever becomes for sale.

The Houston Astros’ 10-game winning streak ended Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston as the ‘Stroes made enough mistakes to hand the Red Sox a 4-3 victory. An error by third baseman Alex Bregman led to one run while two misplayed pop flies was the difference between winning and losing. Houston went 5-1 on last week’s road trip and returned to Minute Maid Park Monday for a 10-game home stand which began with a four-game series against the Chicago White Sox.

JUST BETWEEN US…I made the short trip to Delta Downs Saturday afternoon to place a $30 bet ($10 across the board) on War of Will in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico track in Baltimore and it made me $135 richer. However, the Belmont Stakes in three weeks is a much longer race which means the field should be wide open again.


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