A small, but notable moment in baseball history occurred this week. In a US minor-league game between the San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals, the home plate umpire did not call balls and strikes. Instead, a computerized video system was used to make the determinations, which were relayed by the game’s announcer to the crowd cheering on the home team—and checking out the system’s performance—at Albert Park in San Rafael, California.
The system, Pitchf/x from Chicago-based Sportvision, isn’t new to baseball. It already provides data for evaluating players and umpires, and it helps TV viewers see where a pitch lands relative to the strike zone. But on July 28 it was used to make actual calls, marking the first time that’s happened in professional baseball.
Eric Byrnes, a player turned commentator who proposed the idea to the San Rafael Pacifics, noted the moment on his Instagram account:
I have always believed that at some point in the future an automated strike zone would be permanently implemented into professional baseball. After the awesome success of the system last night that day needs come sooner rather than later. To think that games on a daily basis will continue to be manipulated by human error when this technology is available is an absolute shame. I realize many people are resistant to change but this is a change that will undoubtedly better the greatest game in the world for the generations to come.
The system isn’t perfect for making calls—not a surprise since it wasn’t designed for that in the first place. It uses three cameras to triangulate a ball’s position in the air, but stops tracking a few feet before the plate, instead analyzing the trajectory to determine a predicted location within an inch of where the ball actually shows up.
That means that, for now, fans will have to decide for themselves which kind of error they prefer: human or computerized.