Rockers glad automatic ump gone

·4 min read

Apr. 19—HIGH POINT — With an electronic system calling balls and strikes, Quincy Latimore enjoyed a great deal of success at the plate in a short time with the Rockers last season.

That doesn't mean he's disappointed that the "automated umpire" isn't returning to the Atlantic League this season. Like other Rockers, he's happy it's gone.

"It's a big help to us," Latimore said. "That thing was all over the place the last two years."

The automated ball and strike system used a pitch-tracking device and a digitally created strike-zone rectangle to call balls and strikes. The calls were transmitted to the umpire behind the plate, who signaled what the computer decided. A pitch would be called a strike if the tracker indicated it even grazed the strike box.

The system was in the Atlantic League during the last half of the 2019 season and all of 2021 as part of the league's agreement with Major League Baseball to serve as a test league for changes to the game. The automatic umpire was shifted to a Triple-A league this season.

The Atlantic League will return to the umpire behind the plate making calls themselves.

"With an umpire, you can ask is that as far as you're going to go or is that as high as you're going to go (with the strike zone)," Latimore said. "Not being able to say anything to anybody about the strike zone was very frustrating. You just had to take it. It's exciting to be playing real baseball. I know I'm pumped up about it."

Latimore, who is one five Rockers left from the inaugural 2019 campaign, batted .297 with 21 RBIs, 25 runs scored and six homers in 39 games last season.

"When you're up there batting and the ball's outside but the thing says it's a strike because it nicked the zone, the human eye is going to call it a ball," Latimore said, "Even if he says it's a strike, I know I have that covered. If he's calling that on the outside of the plate, he's not going to do it on the inside. It's not going to be both. So you know if you need to protect outside or in. With the machine, you had to try to protect the whole zone because if the ball nicked the top line or the bottom line, it was a strike. ... Knowing you have one area to concentrate on with two strikes makes it a little easier."

Tyler Ladendorf dealt with an automated strike system while playing for the Rockers in 2019. Ladendorf was signed by the Cubs organization on the first day of the Atlantic League season last year and spent most of the rest of the season in AAA and away from the auto ump.

"The way things went with it in 2019, the video doesn't lie," Ladendorf said. "Balls were called strikes and strikes were called balls. The opinions of everybody doesn't matter when you look at the video. I don't know if the system wasn't calibrated right, but it was a very early trial.

"I remember one of the first games after the All-Star break in 2019 when they started trying it. The pitcher couldn't get out of the first inning. There were 12 pitches on the plate that were called balls. The dude was trying to go back to Triple-A, and it was a trial foolery at that point and it messed with the guy's career."

Ben Aklinski, who was one the league's leading hitters with Lexington at the time, didn't hide how he felt.

"I'm happy," Aklinski said. "As bad as umpires are ... at least there's a human you talk to. When it's a robot and you ask the umpire and he says he doesn't know, you can't do anything. I'm happy there's a human."

Aklinski hit .290 with 105 RBIs and 105 runs scored last season..

"With humans calling it again, you learn talking in the dugouts and asking the umpire questions, how the game is going to be called. You know if it's a veteran pitcher, he's going to get a ball or two off the plate called a strike. WIth two strikes, you know what's going to be called a strike. Last year, you had no clue. You hoped you didn't get two strikes because you didn't know what the next would be."

gsmith@hpenews.com — 336-888-3519