Tuesday night marked the first known professional baseball game in which balls and strikes were called not by an umpire, but by a computer––and not just any computer, but a computer controlled by former Oakland Athletics' outfielder Eric Byrnes.
The San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, an independent league, are experimenting with a computer handling all balls and strikes calls in their series this week. A normal umpire crew, including a home plate umpire who is more or less a slave to the mighty computer, still handle all other calls.
The computer system is PITCHf/x by Sportvision, the company that also created the first down line for football broadcasts. In fact, PITCHf/x is already being used in all 30 Major League Baseball ballparks for television broadcasts, tracking umpire performance, and any other use that seems relevant. The development in San Rafael just marks the first time that PITCHf/x will be the lone and final authority on balls and strikes.
The way it works is the computer system in the stadium tracks the trajectory and location of each pitch, as seen on most MLB television broadcasts. Byrnes, from somewhere other than the field, then announces to the stadium whether the pitch was a ball or a strike. There is, sadly, no actual robot standing behind the catcher.
It's unclear in the report exactly why Eric Byrnes of all people was tasked to oversee the mighty computer. But Eric Byrnes seems like a pretty cool dude. He's also donating $100 to the Pat Tillman Foundation for every walk or strikeout, and $10,000 if anyone gets ejected for arguing balls and strikes.