Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Umpires Association (MLBUA) have reached a tentative five-year labor agreement through the 2024 regular season, according to a press release from the league. The agreement is subject to the ratification of the 30 clubs and the umpires themselves, with the next steps in that process expected in Jan. 2020.
First indications are that this is not just a ho-hum labor pact. According to a tweet from Jon Heyman of the MLB Network, the umpires “agreed to cooperate” with the league in the continued testing and development of automated balls and strikes (link). The Major League Baseball Umpires Association also agreed to assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level, corroborates a report from the Associated Press.
Last season saw the launch of computerized strike zones in lower levels of organized baseball. The independent Atlantic League became the first American pro league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on July 10. The system used combined an iPhone, a Trackman computer system and Doppler radar to relay proper calls to home plate umps. The Arizona Fall League also gave the system a trial run, and MLB had already been in talks to install the system at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. “This idea has been around for a long time and it’s the first time it’s been brought to life in a comprehensive way,” Morgan Sword, MLB’s senior vice president of economics and operations, said on the night the Atlantic League experiment started, as quoted in the AP story.
While most headlines tomorrow will surely revolve around the “robo ump” implications of this new pact, it’s also worth sharing that the sides agreed to raises in compensation and retirement benefits along with provisions to allow earlier retirement, as noted by both the AP and Heyman. With the current CBA scheduled for expiration in less than two years, it’s at least some sign of stability that the league and umpires union were able to strike a mutually beneficial labor accord.