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James Loney: Umpires should call pitches from behind mound — and be robots with replay

Big League Stew

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Frustrated by a bad call by Todd Tichenor that went against his team Monday night, James Loney of the Los Angeles Dodgers called for umpires to ask for help more often, and for Major League Baseball to make changes to how the game is officiated.

For one, Loney wants to expand video replay.

"The more times these calls happen, the more people will want technology involved to get it right," he said. "We've already started to do that with the home runs. . . . Get it right, whatever it takes."

Further, as quoted by reporter Dylan Hernandez in the Los Angeles Times, Loney suggested that baseball's way of calling balls and strikes is all wrong:

"When you watch from center field, that's the best way to see balls and strikes," Loney said.

Asked if he wanted the game to be called by robots, Loney said, "We'll probably eventually get there. We could be within 50 years of that."

Fifty?! As someone who was hoping for flying cars by now after watching "Blade Runner" 30 years ago, Loney is being awfully conservative with his prediction. But I really like where he's going with the balls and strikes.

Back in the day, human umps used to call balls and strikes from behind the pitcher because logic then dictated that it was the best place to do it. It also was dangerous, and umps were at greater risk of obstructing play.

But adding a robot umpire — or, more accurately, a virtual umpire — would accomplish what much of what Loney seeks. And would you believe we might be a season away from it happening? ESPN's Jayson Stark reported on Monday morning that MLB plans to expand replay on a trial basis next season, and the changes include:

• A group umpiring games from a central location that would signal umps at a particular game regarding a call that needed changing. At first, the umps in the sky would review only homers, matters of fair and foul, along with catch or no catch. After the 2013 season, video replay would be expanded to include "to all sorts of calls." It's funny, but didn't Commissioner Bud Selig just say that he felt no pressure to expand replay? That was last week, apparently. This is now.

The rest is to be negotiated among the owners, players and umpires, but this is heading toward what Loney suggests: Increased use of technology to improve how the game is umpired. It might not be "robot" umpires in the literal sense — and MLB will want to retain the human element (at least for the next couple of generations) — but here's betting that human umpires will get better once they realize just how replaceable they are.

And then the best game just gets better.

Big BLS H/N: Cork Gaines of Business Insider

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