Former Nationals' manager - now senior MLB vice president - Frank Robinson, whose office oversees big league umpires, told FOX Sports recently that umpiring crews don't miss any more calls than they did in the past. According to F Robby, the perception that umpiring today seems less competent is a direct result of modern technology.
He's exactly right, but it's that same modern technology - digital video and the like - that the game itself refuses to embrace beyond the most basic boundary calls.
Even for boundary calls, the game can't get it right. The whole umpiring crew marches off the field and under the stands to view the replays piped in by the MLB home office. Why is that necessary? Wouldn't it make a great deal more sense to add an extra umpire to the crew who would sit in the TV production truck and make those calls? It would take less than a minute and the game would resume rapidly. Why are all four umps necessary? What are they doing down there anyway? Grabbing a snack? Playing a quick game of Wii?
I wouldn't stop at boundary calls. The blown calls we've seen during the current postseason - calls that had a direct impact on the game's results - could have been reviewed quickly and reversed. (I'm also an advocate of an electronic strike zone, thereby eliminating any disputes over balls and strikes. Lance Berkman should've been called out on strikes. One revolution at a time, though.)
There's a contrary view that insists that using technology takes the "human element" out of the game. Hogwash. Humans would still be required to interpret what they're seeing on the screen, just as they do in the NFL and NHL.
The only possible reason I can come up with as to why MLB doesn't enter the 21st century, tech-wise, is cost. They're simply too cheap to do it. Can they possibly expect people to bemoan a past where championships were lost due to an umpiring mistake?
The umpires union, under my proposal, would end up with a bigger rank-and-file, and the "truck ump" position could provide employment for some older umps who may not be up to the rigors of a full season on their feet.
Umpires have been blowing calls for as long as the game's been played. (Babe Pinelli's called third strike on Dale Mitchell for the last out in Don Larsen's perfect game was nowhere near the strike zone!) We're able to see how often it happens these days, thanks to modern technology. I hope I live long enough to see the sport wake up and embrace it.