Major League Baseball’s opening day is March 30, and change is in the air. Umpires will have a new view this season: on Zoom. Major League Baseball struck a deal with Zoom Video Communications, Inc. It allows on-field umpires to watch officials in the replay center evaluate disputed calls.
MLB first adopted instant replay in September 2008. Last season, there were 1,434 video reviews. Those included 1,261 team challenges—with 50.2% leading to overturned calls.
Until now, the on-field crew chief received only the audio of the replay umpire’s evaluation. The umpire who made the initial call, if different from the crew chief, listened along too. The ump or umps walked to the side of the field through 2013 to listen on a headset. From 2014-2021, an attendant brought a headset to the field. Last year, umps switched to a wireless belt pack. (For more on recent changes in baseball, read Baseball Shifts.)
Progress—or at least technology—marches on. This year, technicians will bring 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets to on-field umps. The umpires will connect through Zoom to the replay operations center so they can see the replay alongside the replay ump.
“You’ll be able to see who’s in the chair, who might be with that person, what plays they’re looking at, and be able to pair a visual interaction with the traditional audio interaction,” Chris Marinak says. He is MLB’s Chief Operations and Strategy Officer.
The replay umpire still gets the final call.
The Zoom videos will be available to Apple TV+ and MLB Network Showcase telecasts. Marinak says ballpark videoboards will also have access to the videos, marked with Zoom’s branding.
MLB will also use Zoom during the first day of the amateur draft in Seattle, Washington, on July 9. It’s too early to determine whether Zoom can be integrated into robot plate umpire technology. That automated ball-strike (ABS) system is being tested throughout Triple-A Minor League ballparks this season.
“That whole ecosystem is open for innovation and experimentation,” Marinak says. “We’re absolutely going to try things out and see what sticks.”
Zoom, launched in 2011, was increasingly the technology of choice for MLB teams during the pandemic. For much of 2021 and ’22, Zoom replaced in-person media availabilities for players and managers.
MLB has used Zoom for many years, says Janine Pelosi, Zoom’s chief marketing officer. She says, “As we know over the past few years, the way in which people have leveraged video has really evolved.” But Pelosi doesn’t want her company’s tech to “[get] in the way of the game.” Instead, she’s hoping Zoom is “going to bring the fans into the experience.”
Next week, baseball fans will decide whether Zoom helps or hinders America’s pastime.
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. — Matthew 7:2
(MLB Network’s Kelvin Pickens, left, inspects the radio and headset for a call on a play review. Umpires Cory Blaser, second from left, Edwin Moscoso, right, and Dan Bellino look on. AP/Nam Y. Huh)