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Starkey: Robots over umps? Yes, please

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 11:06 p.m.

Angel Hernandez still has a job. That's the punch line.

Hernandez is the umpire who looked at a television monitor that all but screamed “YES!” and ruled “No.”

The replay clearly showed an Adam Rosales home run in the Indians-A's game May 8. Hernandez upheld the original call of double, which means he either has a serious vision problem or was trying to make a statement against replay in these final days of umpiring as we know it.

Either should have disqualified him from his current line of work.

John Hirschbeck went looking for trouble right here at PNC Park a few weeks ago. He's the umpire who menacingly walked toward home plate with his arms raised — as if to say, “You got a problem with that, kid?” — when Bryce Harper rather mildly objected to a check-swing strike call from 120 feet away.

Harper tossed his helmet. Hirschbeck tossed him out of the game. In the first inning. Meaning nobody who paid good money to see Bryce Harper that day got to see him play.

Oh well, at least they can tell their grandchildren they got to see the great John Hirschbeck in action.

Marty Foster is the umpire who watched a curveball to a left-handed hitter wind up in the right-handed batter's box and still called “strike.” This was the ninth inning of a game between the Rangers and Rays, with two out, a full count and the tying run on base.

Even the pitcher who threw the ball, Texas closer Joe Nathan, couldn't believe it. He mouthed the word “Wow!” as he went to celebrate with his catcher.

Fieldin Culbreth is the umpire who didn't know — or refused to acknowledge — that a pitcher who has yet to face a batter cannot be removed from a game unless he's sick or injured. His entire crew unbelievably failed to correct him in the Astros-Angels game earlier this week.

Culbreth was suspended for two games.

What an embarrassing start for major league umpires this season. Sure, many of their errors are magnified in a technological age. But it's not just the egregious mistakes of a few that have sullied the profession. It's the arrogance of many.

It's Hirschbeck thinking he's the show.

It's Hernandez telling a reporter she couldn't tape his explanation of the blown replay call.

It's the glares and stares and in-your-face style exhibited by too many men in blue.

Maybe this was bound to happen as expanded replay moved in on Major League Baseball. Maybe dinosaurs always react violently to the threat of extinction.

This much we know: More replay is coming in 2014. Possibly everything but balls and strikes.

From this vantage point, it can't come soon enough.

I used to be against expanded replay, favoring an NFL-style challenge system. Things have changed. I'm with MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who says of replay, “My opinion has evolved.”

There is nothing more ridiculous, in all of sports, than watching an umpire crew huddle to make a ruling when thousands of people watching at home already know the right call.

Actually, there is something more ridiculous: Paying good money to watch a game at, say, PNC Park, and not being able to see replays on the $2 million scoreboard because MLB wants to protect umpires from negative player and fan reaction.

For more than two decades, MLB has forbidden teams to show most close plays on scoreboards. None can be shown in slow motion.

Isn't dealing with negative reaction part of an umpire's job description?

It's time to implement advanced technology, including a system similar to the one used to judge line calls in tennis. I wouldn't even be opposed to balls and strikes being called by umpires hooked up to computer technology.

When umpires cannot — or refuse to — get replay calls correct, something is desperately wrong. Like Rosales, Travis Snider hit an obvious home run earlier this season that was upheld as a double after video review.

After Foster's hilariously misplaced strike call, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said, “That call cannot be made at a major league baseball game.”

Soon, Joe, it might not have to be.

Bring on the robots.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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