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Thrown out by robot ump: Ex-51s coach recalls making history

Updated June 4, 2022 - 12:29 pm

The Twitter post about her husband being ejected for arguing with a robot umpire is nearly three years old. But with Automated Ball-Strike technology having made its way to Las Vegas Ballpark this week, Kathy Viola’s take has held up well.

“Somehow my hubby Frank Viola being the first ejection in TrackMan history does not surprise me,” wrote the wife of the former World Series MVP, Cy Young Award winner and former Las Vegas 51s pitching coach, now in his third season as pitching coach for the High Point Rockers of the independent Atlantic League.

The left-hander laughed heartily Thursday upon being reminded of his spouse’s words.

“The very first game we used it,” Viola said about throwing a clipboard high into the air and getting thrown out for arguing with — or at least about — the robo ump in 2019. “It was not ready to be used in that situation yet.”

At the time, the home plate umpire was allowed to overrule TrackMan (which has been replaced by the more efficient Hawk-Eye system) if he thought the robot got the call wrong, and that’s what got Viola tossed.

“The machine malfunctioned but the home plate umpire did a terrible job of letting us know who was in charge,” he said speaking from the baseball hinterlands, where Chasen Bradford and Johnny Field of Las Vegas are trying to make it back to the majors.

Viola was told the system used at Tuesday’s Aviators-Sacramento game appeared to be close to 100-percent accurate. But he still has mixed feelings about robot umpires replacing humans behind home plate and further reducing arguments between managers (and pitching coaches) and umpires.

“That’s what people come to see — they come to see Wally Backman go crazy,” Viola said of the former 51s manager, who was known to have an occasional disagreement with men in blue that lived and breathed.

Around the horn

Just as he had predicted, car owner Sam Schmidt of Henderson and drivers Pato O’ Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya were a formidable force at last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 where the trio finished second, fourth and 11th.

“By far the best field of drivers and teams we’ve had,” Schmidt said upon returning to town after O’Ward came up just short in a duel to the checkered flag with race winner Marcus Ericsson. “We were the only multicar team to have all our cars finish, and we had a shot at it” on the last lap, when O’Ward briefly pushed ahead of Ericsson.

It also was a big week for Schmidt off the track. The Arrow McLaren SP team signed O’Ward to a contract extension and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to drive for the group next year, and his foundation came within $30,000 of raising $1 million during its annual gala in Indianapolis.

Those interested in helping push the fundraising effort over the threshold can make a donation by vising the Conquer Paralysis Now website (conquerparalysisnow.org).

— While Schmidt has been chasing an Indy 500 title as a driver and car owner for 24 years, the all-timer Southern Nevada lap leaders at Indianapolis are Bill Jansen and his wife, Nora. The Justice Court judge (who has witnessed the race 55 times) and Mrs. Jansen (37 Indys) spent race day morning in the Gasoline Alley garage of their friend and racing legend A.J. Foyt.

— In a May 15 RJ report on Southern Nevada’s high school baseball tradition, Cimarron-Memorial and Sierra Vista were left off a list of local high schools that have produced major league talent. Former Cimarron pitchers Mike Dunn and Brad Thompson have World Series rings. As mentioned elsewhere in the report, Sierra Vista product Chris Carter tied for the National League lead with 41 home runs in 2016.

0:01

Sometimes a Harvard education isn’t all it is made out to be, as noted by Action Network sports business analyst Darren Rovell in commenting on NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s retirement Thursday:

— Average value of a Harvard education over the first 30 years after graduating: $2.72 million.

— Ryan Fitzpatrick’s NFL earnings over 18 years after playing quarterback for Harvard: $81.2 million.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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