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Posted: 07:20:12 PM, 19/06/2015

Machines officiating at sports?

? ?

Machines can do a better job than people at making some calls in sports. Why do we hesitate to use them or embrace the information they provide?


Don't they get it in Baseball? On TV, I watch the umpire call a ball on a pitch that is clearly a strike. How do I know? Because they show in the background an automated strike zone that shows the pitch within the designated area. But the umpire's call rules. I feel frustrated by this inaccurate mechanismusing a human to decipher what a machine should be doing.


Why not adapt technology to do what it is best capable of doing and let the umpire handle judgments that technology can't? We know that eventually they will. Baseball is already trying to shorten the expanding length of the games that routinely go on for over three hours because fansespecially the young oneshave reacted by not embracing such a long drawn out event.


Baseball is one of those sports that have been most reluctant to change. In the image below, the batter struck out but none of the pitches were in the strike zone. The last pitch was called a strike but clearly, it wasn't.

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The batter struck out without the pitcher never throwing a strike.
The batter struck out without the pitcher never throwing a strike.

Frankly, today most sport events can be seen much more comfortably in front of a big TV than actually at the game. You get all the information from an overview sense. Baseball telecasts routinely cut away to other critical games, showing plays at other stadiums that affect the results. You have difficulty sitting in a ballpark with 25,000 to 50,000 people to seeing outside or inside plays. You do get the experience of the live event by being immersed in it and perhaps seeing some plays directly without alteration. But in our data fed world, that experience is becoming less relevant.


Accurate data flow from any game seems a given today. Tennis and football are just two of the sports where measurement technology has been generously adopted. Line calls in tennis, complete passes in football all rely on measurement technology to get it right. It eliminates the extended arguing and gets the contests on target.


I recently attended the first two days of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The experience was beyond expectation of being there and seeing the event up close. Now how can we see much with 30,000 other folks wanting to see as well? The answer is that you can only see within your eyesight and only that which is unobstructed. Let me say it is difficult and strenuous over the beautifully manicured park-like setting.


Golf on TV is, frankly, much better. The TV networketwork uses technology extensively to show aspects of the game in players swing, driving length & accuracy, tracking ball flight, etc. You also see the whole picture of the event, not a narrow focus on a single play in front of you. In my case, we hurriedly made the trip back home to see the last two days of the event on glorious wide screen TV.


Another aspect of technology at the Masters is that you are not permitted to bring a phone or camera to the event. It's amazing. You feel cut off from the world. All attention is on golf in front of you. Where else in todays world do you see 30,000 folks not on their cell phones, or the Internet? It is like going back in time. But the secret of the Masters is that the event holds such great allure in this single yearly ritual that the experience wins, at least for the attendees. Of course the TV presentation, seen in real time around the world, provides the funds to strengthen this event.


As someone who sees our measurement technology used in industrial, scientific, and medical applications to the most precise specifications, it's in-roads into sports is a continuous assault to the old ways. The objective is to give better information for understanding how to compete. The nice part is that we are part of the process. In many ways we are better informed than the actual athlete.


Industry's measurement technology has played a big part in this continuing evolution/revolution. I just wish they would make it happen faster, especially in baseball!


Fred Molinari

President & CEO

Data Translation

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