Since the dawn of sports, an umpire, referee or other official has been on the scene to blow a call. Baseball umpires in particular, have already had a troublesome year and the season is still young. It’s a thankless job and if an umpire does well, no one hears or speaks about it; but oh how the kingdom crashes if he’s anything less than perfect.
Umpires and the human element that they represent are held to an impossible standard. But when perfection is impossible and nothing below it is acceptable, all that’s left is a broken business model that could start to damage the integrity of the game. Major League Baseball is focused on increasing umpire productivity and accountability by way of fines, suspensions and a ranking system. But no matter how much this helps, if at all, it still won’t be good enough. Old-fashioned loyalists may argue that the aura of the game will be tarnished with an increased instant replay presence.
While I’m all for tradition, in this case I choose innovation (fans that remember Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that should have been – will likely agree). For the same reasons people don’t use rotary phones or horse and buggies any more, to forgo camera-technology in baseball would be to miss a game-changing opportunity. It’s not 1875 anymore and attendance at the ballpark is down, blown calls are up, and fans are content to channel-surf massive HD TV’s from the couch rather than battle traffic and pay to park at the stadium only to sit on uncomfortable plastic seats.
Even the naysayers can’t argue with the accuracy of camera-technology like the Hawk-eye officiating system currently evolving the game of tennis with its ball-tracking technology – surely this can be configured for baseball? Unfortunately, the cynics believe this will only increase game delays. Baseball is relaxed enough, does replay really need to be this slow? Human Genome analysis that used to take 2 days can be done in 20 minutes, surely we can solve the balls vs. strikes or home runs vs. foul balls mystery in a legitimate instant?
A future pairing between ball-tracking technologies powered by an in-memory data cruncher like SAP HANA would seemingly fit like a glove. When it comes to analytics and sabre-metrics, fans now have the same visibility as managers, thanks to solutions provided by MLB. With such a proactive leap to engage fans and enhance the game-viewing experience, I’m confident MLB will go all the way, embedding ball-tracking technology into the game to create a truly unprecedented digital experience.
With analytics in-place to optimize the game and big-data ball-tracking technology to potentially officiate the game, adding mobility to the equation assures the 5-4-3 triple play. The future I see doesn’t have umpires or instant replay. Instead I see real-time result analysis determined by resolute machines that crunch big-data fast, accurately, and without bias, all of which can be tracked on your favorite mobile device. Picture a ballpark experience similar to what the 49ers are gearing toward where a mobile device is the key to a perfect game:
- Mobile check-ins get fans to their seats faster
- Mobile snack orders delivered to seats mean fans never miss a play
- Predictability polling allows fans to test their baseball IQ’s and compete against other fans, pitch by pitch
- Real-time calls calculated by multiple cameras, automatically delivered to mobile devices
- Live views from stadium cameras put every seat “in the game” and shows shortest bathroom line
- Personalized offers ensure fans are alerted on apparel discounts and where to go right when their favorite player hits a homeru
All of these features can be made available through the stadium’s wifi. So fans can just sit back, relax, and embrace the purity of a game determined solely by the players and optimized by technology.
How do you envision the future baseball experience? Do you favor increased replay presence?