“Robo umps” are a thing of the past, at least in the Atlantic League. Human beings will be calling balls and strikes in 2022.
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball announced Thursday that it will discontinue its experiment of using technology to determine balls and strikes, returning that critical job to the home plate umpires during the 2022 season.
At the same time, the Atlantic League announced that the distance from the pitchers’ rubber to home plate will return to the traditional 60 feet, 6 inches.
The Atlantic League has used Trackman technology to determine balls and strikes since the second half of the 2019 season as part of its innovative Test Rules and Equipment Partnership with Major League Baseball.
Under the same partnership with MLB, the Atlantic League moved the mound-to-plate distance to 61 feet, 6 inches for the second half of the 2021 season. According to the league’s press release, “the test proved inconclusive, so both parties agreed to restore the pitching rubber distance to its traditional length of 60’6” for the upcoming ALPB season.”
In the same release, the Atlantic League said the ball-strike technology “is moving to an MLB affiliated league,” without specifying which league.
Charleston Dirty Birds first-year manager Billy Horn welcomed the news.
“I think everybody’s gonna be happy about it,” said Horn. “At the end of the day, it looks like good-old American baseball wins.”
Horn, who served as the High Point Rockers bench coach for the past two Atlantic League seasons, said the the rules experiments were worth the effort but is glad to see things returning to normal.
“We got used to it,” Horn said of the use of electronic umpires. “Not everyone was in favor of it, but I’m pretty certain that almost everybody will be excited that we’ll be going back to old-school baseball.”
Horn added that discarding the experiments was expected.
“We kinda knew it was gonna happen,” he said. “In my opinion, it was able to give the league some more publicity. If Major League Baseball was going to go this route [and adopt the rule changes], we could say we helped pioneer it, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen.”
Dirty Birds pitcher Joe Testa, whom Horn named as the team’s pitching coach, echoed his manager’s thoughts.
“It was cool that we had a chance to be part of the experiment, and it was interesting to see how everyone handled it and adapted to it,” Testa said. “But now that we’re going back I think we’re all gonna be pretty happy about it.”
Testa added that it took awhile to get used to the mound being moved back by a foot, but pitchers quickly got used to the change.
“Everyone got accustomed to it pretty quickly,” Testa said. “Once I mentally got over the fact that I’m throwing 61-6 instead of 60 feet, 6 inches, I didn’t even think about it any more.”
Atlantic League President Rick White was quoted in the press release, mentioning that other experimental rules changes will continue in the league.
“As we enter 2022, we reaffirm to players and fans that ball-strike calls, and the distance of the pitching rubber, will return to accepted norms,” White said in the release. “We retain several past MLB test features, such as 17-inch bases, extra-innings tiebreaker and anti-shift rules, among others.
“The test rules and equipment are transitional by definition: some elements remain, others are tweaked, and still others are abandoned. That’s why MLB and the ALPB conduct the tests.”
The release noted that the Atlantic League and MLB will announce 2022 test rules later this spring.
“We are honored to pioneer the future of the game with Major League Baseball,” said White. “We’re proud that many tests today will find their way to the big leagues in the future. We will continue to closely corroborate on tests with MLB.”
The experimental playing rule and equipment changes are part of a multi-year agreement between MLB and ALPB.