Baseball gave us plenty in the way of fresh headlines yesterday: New intentional walk rules for this year, a slew of other new rules for next year, and a new system with which to implement those potential new rules. Folded in with all of that news was one piece that did more in terms of reflecting back, rather than projecting ahead — the retirement of some of MLB’s most prominent umpires. Jim Joyce, Bob Davidson, John Hirschbeck, and Tim Welke will all be hanging up their chest protectors this season.
It’s pretty common to hear that a good umpire is one who doesn’t make you want to remember his name. However much truth there may be to that, this set of names includes two that are fairly unforgettable as far as umpires go. Davidson, and his nickname of "Balkin’ Bob," made himself known through a decades-long career full of escalated arguments and quick ejections (and, of course, lots of balks). Joyce, meanwhile, is remembered not so much for a career’s worth of calls his as he is for a single one on its own — the "safe" at first base that ruined Armando Galarraga’s 2010 bid for a perfect game in the ninth inning, a call that Joyce admitted was incorrect and later led him to apologize directly to Galarraga.
The future possibility of an automated strike zone was among the many topics discussed by commissioner Rob Manfred yesterday. He noted that while he didn’t feel the technology was yet as advanced as it would need to be, he wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in a robot-controlled strike zone even when that tech is ready. "In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy," he said. For better or for worse, and in very different ways, Davidson and Joyce were certainly two who kept that human element there.
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