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Future of Officiating (6/5/10)

By Paul Bessire

Saturday, June 5 at 2:37 PM ET
First of all, we're not going to forget Armando Galarraga. And we're always going to remember him for pitching a perfect game. It doesn't matter whether he goes down in the record books as having pitched a perfect game or not. We all know that he did. And his game will get far more attention throughout history than Mike Witt or Len Barker (as aside, all three perfect games this season are notable for reasons far beyond the game - Dallas Braden had just dominated the headlines with his outburst on "unwritten rules;" Galarraga had a call go against him; and Roy Halladay is the best pitcher of the current generation). Galarraga will be just fine - he may even become a beacon for change.

Jim Joyce got a call wrong. The point itself is perfect - How can we celebrate an outing by a pitcher for being perfect, while we simply expect all umpires to be? Joyce is not the first umpire to get a call wrong. It happens in every single game, several times. Balls and strikes. Fair or foul. Homerun or not. Safe or out. There is room for error when judged in real time by flawed eyes and flawed minds.

Studies have indicated that even the best umpires accurately call around 95% of pitches. That sounds great, but that means that somewhere in the vicinity of ten pitches missed a game. The more important point is to think of how we know this. Technology exists and can be further improved to call every ball and strike with far greater accuracy and no bias.

Take that a few steps further. This season, cameras are positioned in every major league stadium to track positioning of defenders, the trajectory of batted balls, ballpark effects, the break (up-down and left-right) of each pitch and more. It cannot be much of a stretch to call a game with similar technology.

We have SUPER 120451587 DOPPLER radar, Google Earth and even video games that illustrate our ability to pinpoint just about anything anywhere.

Much has been said of instant replay recently. While I would champion any argument to improve officiating and minimize possible error, we need to move on and remove the "re" from that statement. We are just a few sensors (and some holograms if you want to make every call as clear as possible) away from being able to officiate every sport in real-time and with far less error than we currently have.

Baseball is the easiest. Sure, slo-mo can show us, but cameras and/or sensors in balls, gloves, bases and cleats can tell us.

Football has an even greater need for this technology. Is there a more inexact science than spotting a ball? Yet we wheel out these chains as if the represent a definitive answer. That's really easy to fix with an electronic grid overlay of the field and sensors in the ball. We'll know immediately as soon as first down is achieved (or not).

As with basketball and other sports that can get physical, the contact element of football can be more difficult. But if Sport Science can tell exactly how much force Ndamukong Suh imposes on a tackling dummy, we should be able to know which player is the aggressor and to what degree.

We may not quite be to a point where any of this is feasible, but I don't think we are too far away either. At the very least, we can think of a game competed by two teams, free from errors beyond their control.

Anyone who would argue against technology getting the calls right, should embrace blown calls, not criticize them. They don't have to be a part of the game. No one should want them to be a part of the game. Every sport has endured progress where technology has allowed it to do so. Baseball has introduced helmets, improved all equipment, embraced radio and television and the internet (and steroids), built state-of-the-art stadiums, lowered the mound, altered the definition of the strike zone, made countless other rule changes and even implemented some form of instant replay. Replay may be the next step, but it should not take too many more steps for us to eliminate human error in officiating, get the calls right and enjoy the (perfect) game).

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