Before robots take over the world, they first might take over baseball.
Major League Baseball on Tuesday announced a three-year agreement with the Atlantic League that will allow MLB to “implement changes to Atlantic League playing rules in order to observe the effects of potential future rule changes and equipment.” Neither league specified the rule changes that will be tested, but they did note that pitch-tracking technology will be installed at ballparks and that the rules and equipment tested will be “experimental.”
That’s where the robots come in.
Check out this note from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper:
“And those rules changes will be significant,” Cooper wrote. “While no one with the Atlantic League would confirm the changes, it is expected that the rules tweaks will involve moving back the mound and using Trackman to call balls and strikes, both rules changes that have long been suggested, but are significant enough to require plenty of in-game testing.”
So, could we really see robotic umpires in the future? Probably not anytime soon, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told The Athletic last year that the technology soon will make it possible.
“I think we are much closer than we were a year ago to having the technological capability to actually call the strike zone,” Manfred told Ken Rosenthal. “The accuracy is way up — way better than what it was a year ago. The technology continues to move … and it actually moved a little faster than I might have thought.
“There remains a fundamental question the owners are going to have to address. When you take away the home plate umpire’s control over the strike zone, you take away a principal piece of his authority in terms of managing the whole game. You really need to think carefully about whether you want to make that change.”
Of course, welcoming robot overlords and moving back the mound aren’t the only rule changes baseball is considering. There are far more pressing matters, such as the much-debated pitch clock, that could arrive much sooner.
Rosenthal on Wednesday shared these updates:,
It remains to be seen what (if any) of these changes MLB actually implements. And whether they’ll make any difference is an entirely different discussion.
Still, it feels inevitable that baseball games soon will look much different than what we’re used to.