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Does baseball need umpires?

Or at least so many, especially in the postseason. That’s the question Jonah Keri asks in today’s Wall Street Journal in the wake of some shaky officiating in the first round of the playoffs:

The idea, of course, is that more umpires means better play-calling. But this isn’t necessarily true. After Friday’s game, Tim Tschida, the umpire crew chief on duty that night, told reporters that while there was no excuse for Mr. Cuzzi’s blown call, there was one contributing factor. Umpires spend so little time working in the outfield during the season that it can be a challenge in the postseason. “Getting into a position is a little bit foreign,” Mr. Tschida said. “It’s a little bit uncomfortable.”

In an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger, Mr. Cuzzi also said the positioning was a challenge. “We’re not used to playing that far down the line,” he said. “The instant the ball is hit, we usually start running. I think I may have been looking too closely at it.”

Keri goes on to note the accuracy of the Pitch-f/x zone evaluation system, and the use of the Hawk-Eye cameras in tennis for line calls, and asks whether, rather than throwing six umpires out at a playoff game, we couldn’t limit that number and rely more on technology to get balls and strikes and line calls right more often.

The usual battle lines of this debate end up being those who want every call to be right with no excuses whatsoever vs. those who are wary of taking the “human element” out of the game. I’m sympathetic towards the latter viewpoint, especially when it comes to calling balls and strikes -- I get a lot of enjoyment out of the cat and mouse game pitchers, catchers and batters play with the strike zone -- but I can’t help but think that we’re on an inevitable course towards technology playing a larger role in the game.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to have a digital camera system make accurate line calls, so what’s the argument against it? And once you go there, how long can those of us who like to see a little human variance in the strike zone really hold off the advance of progress?