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EDITORIAL: York Revolution fans may find that rule changes give sport a needed spark

York Dispatch
  • The Atlantic League and Major League Baseball have entered into a partnership.
  • Under the partnership, the Atlantic League is testing a number of rule changes.
  • Major League Baseball wants to see how the rules perform under game conditions.
Atlantic League umpire Brian deBrauwere wears an earbud behind Revolution catcher James Skelton during a demonstration of the automated ball-strike system at PeopleBank Stadium Monday, July 8, 2019. The system, sanctioned by Major League Baseball, will make its official debut at the 2019 Atlantic League All-Star Game at the park.Bill Kalina photo

Last week, the baseball world turned its eyes to York.

That’s because the "robot umpire” made its long-awaited debut at PeoplesBank Park for the Atlantic League All-Star Game.

It’s part of partnership between Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League to test out possible future rule changes for the big leagues.

'Robot umpires' make debut in Atlantic League All-Star Game at PeoplesBank Park in York

The leaders of MLB know their game needs some help. Television ratings and attendance are down, particularly among younger folks.

The MLB honchos are hoping the rule changes being tested in the Atlantic League will create a faster-paced game with more action that will appeal to casual fans, especially those under 30.

Not surprisingly, many of baseball’s more traditional, die-hard, older fans are not happy with the changes being considered.

For the most part, however, the changes being tested appear like reasonable efforts to give the game a much-needed spark, without altering the true essence of the sport.

A radar device is seen on the roof behind home plate at PeoplesBank Park during the third inning of the Atlantic League All-Star minor league baseball game, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in York, Pa. Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore the earpiece connected to an iPhone in his ball bag which relayed ball and strike calls upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar. The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional baseball league to let the computer call balls and strikes during the all star game. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

First-half changes: The following rule changes were implemented in the first half of the Atlantic League season with relatively little controversy:

►No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than pitching changes and medical visits.

►Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of an inning before they can exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.

►Increasing the size of bases from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.

►The time between innings and pitching changes are reduced.

York Revolution players, home-plate ump on board with new electronic strike zone software

The “robot umpire” made its debut this past Wednesday, July 10. A TrackMan system, using Doppler radar, called the balls and strikes, not the home-plate umpire. The umpire simply relayed the call made by TrackMan.

The system appeared to work relatively well, with only minimal delays. Players appeared willing to give the “robot umpire” a chance to see how it works.

Atlantic League umpire Brian deBrauwere jokes with Revolution batter Telvin Nash during a demonstration of the automated ball-strike system at PeopleBank Stadium Monday, July 8, 2019. The system, sanctioned by Major League Baseball, will make its official debut at the 2019 Atlantic L eague All-Star Game at the park. Bill Kalina photo

Second-half changes: In addition to the “robot umpire,” some more changes have been implemented for the second half of the Atlantic League season, including:

►The pitcher is required to step off the rubber in order to attempt a pickoff.

►One foul bunt is permitted with two strikes before a strikeout is called.

►Batters may “steal” first base on any pitch not caught in flight. (The batter can be thrown out if he attempts to run.)

►The “check swing” rule is made more batter-friendly.

Those changes have been met with more resistance. The rule allowing players to “steal” first was especially criticized.

York Revolution slugger Telvin Nash said simply: “That’s not baseball.”

'That's not baseball:' Some Atlantic League players unhappy with newly-announced rules

Game needs a spark: Nash is right. It’s not baseball, at least not in the traditional sense, but baseball, in the traditional form, is hurting. Some changes are needed to spice up the game.

It’s highly unlikely that all of the changes being tried in the Atlantic League will eventually make it to big-league parks. In fact, most of them will probably never be used in an MLB game.

Still, it’s encouraging to see that the powers-that-be in MLB understand the serious situation that the game is in. In many ways, baseball is at a crossroads. If some changes aren’t made, baseball could soon find itself considered a secondary sport in America, not the national pastime.

A win-win situation: The partnership between the Atlantic League and MLB is a win-win for both organizations. The Atlantic League gets a much-needed publicity boost and MLB gets to see how the rule changes work in real-life games.

The fact that York was at the epicenter of the most highly anticipated change – the “robot umpire” — only added to the interest in these parts.

It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. We just have one suggestion for baseball fans watching the changes in action during York Revolution games: Give them a chance.

You just might like what you see.