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Robot umps unlikely for ’25; MLB working on new baseballs

May 23, 2024, 1:43 PM

MLB Rob Manfred Seattle Mariners Ken Griffey Jr....

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks with Ken Griffey Jr. during the 2023 World Baseball Classic. (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball says robot home plate umpires are unlikely for 2025 MLB games.

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“We still have some technical issues,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday at a news conference following an owners meeting. “We haven’t made as much progress in the minor leagues this year as we sort of hoped at this point. I think it’s becoming more and more likely that this will not be a go for ’25.”

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in minor leagues since 2019. It is being used at all Triple-A parks this year for the second straight season, the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a challenge system in the final three.

“There’s a growing consensus in large part based on what we’re hearing from players that the challenge form should be the form of ABS if and when we bring it to the big leagues, at least as a starting point,” Manfred said. “I think that’s a good decision.”

After instituting a pitch clock in 2023, MLB slowed innovation this year, with only small rules adjustments.

“One thing we did learn with the changes that we went through last year, taking the extra time to make sure you have it right, is definitely the best approach,” Manfred said. “I think we’re going to use that same approach here.”

Manfred said discussions have not taken place with the players’ association on the shape of an automated strike zone. There is little desire to call the strike zone as defined in the rule book as a cube. The ABS currently calls strikes solely based on where the ball crosses the midpoint of the plate, 8.5 inches from the front and the back.

MLB’s meetings with players revealed a preference for a challenge system in order to continue to incentivize catcher framing skills.

“Originally we thought everybody was going to be wholeheartedly in favor of the idea if you can get it right every single time, that’s a great idea,” Manfred said. “One thing we’ve learned in these meetings is the players feel there could be other effects on the game that would be negative if you use it full-blown.

“Players feel that a catcher that frames is part of the, if you’ll let me use the word art of the game, and that if in fact framing is no longer important, the kind of players that would occupy that position might be different than they are today,” Manfred said. “You could hypothesize a world where instead of a framing catcher who’s focused on defense, the catching position becomes a more offensive player. That alters people’s careers. Those are real, legitimate concerns that we need to think all the way through before we jump off that bridge.”

BASEBALLS

MLB has switched efforts to develop a tackier baseball to working with Rawlings, its supplier since 1977. MLB had been collaborating with Dow Chemical.

“Dow has kind of cried uncle,” Manfred said. “They spent a ton of money and worked with us. They were great partners, had a lot of good ideas and we just were not able to come up with a ball that was playable. We’re now focusing our efforts on a tacky ball with the Rawlings people.”

UNIFORMS

John Slusher, Nike’s executive vice president of global sports marketing, spoke to owners about the company’s much-criticized new uniforms, which will be altered for 2025. MLB and Nike announced on May 3 that uniforms will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization will be available to all players beginning in 2025.

Related: MLB, Nike announce changes to 2025 uniforms

“I think they appropriately took responsibility for the issues with respect to the new uniforms and the rollout of those uniforms,” Manfred said. “It’s the first time the owners had had heard this directly from Nike. They had been consistent with me about taking responsibility.”

Manfred said Nike said it will address “the letters, the non-customized pants, the sweat through and the lack of matching of the grays.”

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

Manfred said Houston, Miami, San Juan and Tokyo will be sites for the 2026 World Baseball Classic. The final will be in Miami for the second tournament in a row, after 2023.

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Robot umps unlikely for ’25; MLB working on new baseballs