August 30, 2012
Capturing the Photo Finish
We've talked about primitive examples of robot umpires before—and Michael Clair of Old Time Family Baseball later took a wonderfully thorough look at the topic—but here's a slightly different take on the concept from 1942:
The camera, like most of the other Dumont innovations, will be concealed under the ground.
So far, so good, ridiculous optimism for the timing and accuracy of 1940s technology aside. But then we see this:
On close plays, Dumont says, the films will be developed immediately, and at the feature night games the lights in the park will be turned off and the picture projected, in slow motion, on a huge screen in the outfield.
Ray Dumont, the man mentioned here, was a Kansas promoter who helped create the National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress (now simply known as the National Baseball Congress, or NBC) in the 1930s. Earlier in the article, Dumont is described as a "futuristic young man" who "overlooks no new stunt which might lure customers". An automatic home plate duster ("to relieve the umpire of the bends") and a "leaping microphone" that let fans hear player-umpire arguments are cited as stunts Dumont had recently tried in the NBC. Neither sound nearly as complicated or far-fetched as this photo-finish machine, though.
Somehow Dumont expected a film camera to rise out of the ground at the push of the button that would then photograph anything in its field of vision. From there, the photos would be developed in-house and projected onto a large screen with the stadium's lights out. (That sounds like something the umpires would love.) Dumont goes on to say that, if the experiment was a success that year, it would be implemented at all bases around the field in 1943. It could have been the first Matrix-style system, nearly 60 years before Neo ever took that red pill.
Dumont may have been a bit out there when it came to trying out in-stadium technology, but he did seem to understand the business rather well:
"However," Dumont adds, "the pictures are bound to cause that much more discussion, pro and con, by the fans, and after all that's creating an added interest in the game."
Fans (and detractors) of instant replay today will have a hard time arguing with Dumont's point there.