Technology and Major League Baseball

Jeff SummersCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2010

Major League Baseball is an interesting animal. On the one hand it is entrenched in its history and trying to move it forward into a new century is like pushing a rope. This of course has positive and negative implications.

On the one hand, it is that historical perspective that brings continuity to the game that spans generations. It makes it possible for children, parents, and grandparents to all speak the same language of baseball comparing players and games from very different eras.

On the other hand, it is frustrating that the game does not change to take advantage of the newest technology available to enhance the game. A prime example of this is the use of replay within the game.

It was not until the last few years that Major League Baseball even recognized the existence of instant replay let alone utilize the technology in the game. While the NFL and the NBA have both instituted replay to assist the officials in making the correct calls, baseball held it at bay.

In a large concession Major League Baseball finally allowed the use of replay, but only in one specific situation to help determine whether a hit ball was a home run or was still within the field of play.

From a fan’s experience and perspective, Major League Baseball is still in the dark ages. I was reminded of this during last week’s Behind-the-Scenes tour of Chase Field. As we listened to the Diamondbacks representatives explain all of the high-tech equipment used for dbTV the inevitable question was raised, “Why don’t you show replays of close plays on dbTV?”

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The answer was that Major League Baseball does not allow any replays of close calls to be shown in the stadium. It doesn’t matter that every television viewer is given multiple camera angles and super-slow-motion replays, in the stadium fans are left wondering what happened.

While this is frustrating, there are signs that baseball is moving even if at the pace of a glacier. A compromise was reached last year where teams are now allowed to show a finite number of plays originating at second base during a game but only in actual motion and they cannot include the “phantom tag” of a double-play ball.

Another positive step is the inclusion of new technology by Major League Baseball for their GameDay application. This technology allows MLB to track each pitch and provide a graphical representative of the pitch including velocity, release point, and break for each pitch thrown.

The technology is impressive using three cameras to triangulate the data and send it in real time to MLB headquarters where it is exposed to the website in a clean graphical format.

PitchFX is just the beginning. Last year, MLB introduced their At-Bat application for the Apple iPhone that would allow fans to not only get score updates but also PitchFX data and video replays.

By season’s end MLB had integrated their MLB.TV package, giving fans an opportunity to see all out-of-market games on either their computers or their iPhone. Now, on the eve of Spring Training 2010, MLB is introducing a new version of their applications.

These will be available not only for the computer and the iPhone but there will also be an application for the Blackberry and Android-based devices extending their product offering to most of the major smart phones in use.

Slowly the game is moving into the virtual world. There are still pain points. Major League Baseball still refuses to use the technology to control the game and their marketing and price points are still too high. They have yet to work with the individual teams to offer any kind of incentive to get this technology into the hands of Season Ticket holders.

But at least they are now recognizing the changing landscape and that is the first step to moving the fan and the game into new and exciting realms.


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