I've never cared much for the designated hitter rule. I was never a big fan of polyester uniforms. I thought expansion beyond 24 teams was a mistake. I'm what they call a baseball purist.
Make that used to be a purist. I'm no Luddite, but I never thought I'd hear myself say this: It's time for technology to take its place in the grand old game. The impetus for this transformation is easy to pinpoint: the state of umpiring in the major leagues.
Forget the Jim Joyce call in the Galarraga perfect game -- we all know it was a perfect game, despite what the box score says -- that's just the call that received the most ink. There are numerous calls weekly that are missed, that impact the outcome of the game far more than Joyce's hiccup. From Ted Lilly being allowed to pitch from several inches in front of the rubber, to bizarre strike zone interpretations and obvious safe/out calls where the ump in questions refuses to ask for help from his colleagues.
The advance of technology has allowed us to see the frequent mistakes made by big league umpires. I have no doubt they were likely just as error-prone 50 years ago. And, by giving technology a seat at the table, baseball can benefit in many ways.
Some years back umpire Ken Kaiser, appearing on a radio show in Baltimore, said that the rule book strike zone was "only a suggestion; it's up to the umpire to determine what the strike zone really is." Speaking with umpire Joe West last season, he said he didn't call the upper part of the strike zone because if he were playing, he "wouldn't be able to hit that pitch."
Utilizing a device, laser-based or whatever, that would accurately determine the strike zone for each hitter as he stepped in the box, would keep an umpire's personal bias out of the equation. You'd still need a home plate umpire to signal what the pitch was; he'd find out instantaneously through an earpiece, and signal appropriately. The same device could also determine whether a swing is checked or not.
The pace of the game would accelerate. Hitters would come to the plate ready to swing the bat, knowing a pitch above the belt is in the zone, whether the ump that day believes it or not.
You'd still have base umpires, of course, plus I'd add a fifth umpire in the TV truck to decide questionable safe/out, fair/foul calls. He'd make the call, not the current committee meeting under the stands that takes too much time.
Bad teams are far more likely to suffer a bad call; having watched the game for more than 50 years, that's just a fact. A drastic change like this proposal won't happen overnight. Maybe by 2020 they'll realize that genuine accuracy benefits everyone.
Phil Wood is a contributor to Nats Xtra on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.