It seems improbable, but an Atlantic League coach got ejected for very quickly disagreeing with a robot umpire last week.
As part of a three-year agreement with MLB, the Atlantic League is trying some new things, including allowing the stealing of first base and an electronic strike zone/robot umpires. Time will tell if any of those things reach the highest level of baseball, but the practical application of some fresh things will be and already is interesting to keep an eye on.
Frank Viola, the 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner for the Minnesota Twins, is the pitching coach for the High Point Rockers in the Atlantic League. The league’s first game with the automated strike zone (also known as Trackman) came in the Rockers’ game on July 12, and in the first inning Viola had some objection to how the robot umpire was calling pitches.
There’s bound to be some initial glitches in using technology to make calls previously preserved as part of the “human element”, which will get the old-school tilted critics of advancement going about changing the game.
Viola wanted umpire Tim Detweiler to overrule some close calls made by Trackman, and did so demonstratively. And as if he was arguing balls and strikes in a major league game, he was ejected when he came onto the field.
Looking at the above video, three of four balls called on the batter were touching the line of the strike zone box like one we’re used to seeing on television. At least two of those, pitch No. 1 and No. 2 on the inside corner to the right-handed hitter, probably have to be able to be overruled and called strikes by an umpire seeing it on the field. That’s definitely what got Viola going, and led to his tweet on the back end wondering what or who is “in charge”.
But if anyone was wondering if you can be ejected for arguing with a robot umpire, the answer is a resounding, humor-tinged yes.