The Phillies lost a game to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, 3-0. It was a rough weekend for the offense, with just one run scored in total on Saturday and Sunday, and the bats didn’t get a hit in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
It was frustrating, to say the least, and that frustration hit a nadir in the bottom of the 7th inning of Sunday’s series finale.
The situation: Trailing 2-0, Alec Bohm stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. The Phillies’ best hitter with runners in scoring position this season, Bohm worked a full count and then took what appeared to the rest of the free world like ball-four.
Instead, this happened.
Make no mistake, there is no universe in which that final pitch to Bohm was a strike. None.
The home plate umpire, Alex Mackay, is a rookie call-up from the minors. Yes, I too was surprised to learn umpires get called up from the minors just like players do.
And apparently, much like players getting their first taste of the big leagues, some of these green umps simply aren’t ready for the moment. Take, for example, the poor soul last week who blew THREE calls at first base in the span of two innings, with two blown calls in the span of a single pitch.
But it’s not just the rookies. Veteran umpires have been uneven-to-bad this year as well. Last week, veteran Laz Diaz missed 19 strike calls in a Yankees-White Sox game. Diaz followed that up with 15 missed calls in a Dodgers-Rockies contest. On Sunday, Angel Hernandez, long considered the most incompetent home plate umpire in baseball, missed 15 calls in the Yankees’ loss to the Marlins.
That’s just one week, and these are the most egregious examples. This has been happening all season.
It’s time for the robots to call balls and strikes.
The technology exists to remove the human factor out of the most difficult aspect of baseball. It’s an admittedly difficult job, with dozens of borderline pitches that could go either way every game.
But we now have computers who can track balls and strikes and make those calls in real time, based on a computerized strike zone. There simply is no need for all of this tomfoolery.
To be fair, home plate umpires have more to watch this year than ever before. They must constantly be making sure the new pitch clock is working properly, ensure both the batter and pitcher are adhering to the new rules, and mete out punishment if not.
You could make the argument that maybe we should hold off until they’ve had a chance to adjust, but this has been an issue long before 2023.
At the very least, managers should be allowed to challenge balls and strikes calls. Currently, they are not. It is a judgment call on the part of the ump, and those cannot be challenged. Baseball has gone out of its way to invest heavily in ball-and-strike tracking and, if you don’t want robot umps, you should at least allow Rob Thomson to challenge that third strike call in the 7th inning on Sunday.
The game has changed. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, with nastier breaking stuff. The job of a home plate umpire should be ceded to technology that can handle it. Will there be bumps in the road? Sure. But it’s time to rip off the Band-Aid.
It’s time for the machines.