Roman Mars [00:00:01] In Williamsburg, Virginia, there’s never too much of a good thing. Whether you’re a foodie, a golfer, a history buff, a shopaholic, an outdoor enthusiast, or a thrill seeker, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Explore the grounds of America’s first English settlement in Jamestown, or shop along the quaint streets of historic Williamsburg and Yorktown. Dig into the forensics of the country’s earliest settlers, or experience a day in the life of one. Williamsburg is the type of destination that you can go back to again and again and have a completely different experience. So, plan your visit now. Whether you’re a driverless car engineer or an augmented reality designer, Squarespace is the online platform to help you stand out with a beautiful website, engage with your audience, and sell anything. With Squarespace, you can collect email subscribers and convert them into loyal customers, display posts from your social profiles on your website, and even use the Analytics feature to gain insights to grow your business. Head to for a free trial–and when you’re ready to launch, use the offer code “invisible” to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. If you’re a baseball fan, you might remember the 1997 playoffs. That’s when pitcher Liván Hernández was unstoppable. 

Baseball Commentator [00:01:21] Can Liván Hernández get out of it? Yes, he can! 

Chris Berube [00:01:26] Hernández was a rookie for the Florida Marlins, and his masterpiece was Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against Atlanta. 

Roman Mars [00:01:34] That’s producer Chris Berube. 

Chris Berube [00:01:36] Liván Hernández struck out 15 batters that game, which for context, is so many batters. 

Baseball Commentator [00:01:43] Strike three! His 11th. 

Chris Berube [00:01:47] It was an incredible night. But a lot of his strikes–they weren’t actually strikes. Hernández was pretty consistently missing the zone. 

Baseball Commentator [00:01:57] The 3-2 pitch… Got him! Eric Gregg punches him out on what McGriff thought was ball four. It’s his 15th. 

Katie Nolan [00:02:08] This pitch is–I would say–a foot, two feet outside of the strike zone. Not close. Called a strike. 

Chris Berube [00:02:16] That’s baseball analyst Katie Nolan. She vividly remembers that game because it really was not good. 

Katie Nolan [00:02:24] I mean… Okay, second pitch, way outside, called a strike. Egregious. Egregious. 

Chris Berube [00:02:33] Katie and I rewatched video from that game with, let’s call it a perverse fascination. Almost none of the batters actually swung at his pitches. You see Hernández just winding up and throwing ball after ball, like, a foot outside the strike zone. And then inexplicably, the umpire, Eric Gregg–he just kept making the hand signal for a strike. 

Katie Nolan [00:02:56] It was so bad. It was probably the worst umpiring I can remember. The outside of this strike zone–it just didn’t end. It was like a never-ending strike zone. 

Roman Mars [00:03:12] In case you don’t know anything about baseball, in the major leagues, there are four umpires on the field–one behind each base, and one behind home plate. The home plate umpire has the most important job, which is calling balls and strikes. A strike is basically any hittable pitch–something over the plate, between the batter’s chest and his knees. And a ball is everything else. 

Chris Berube [00:03:34] I remember watching games as a kid, and whenever an umpire blew it, I would say, “I could do better than that.” And so, I tried. I was a little league and high school umpire from the age of 14 until my early 20s. And I think I could have gone pro if it weren’t for my poor eyesight, my aversion to getting yelled at, and the time I was hit in the throat by a baseball. My point is, even in the little leagues, getting calls right is a lot harder than it looks. And at the pro level, the baseball is moving at, like, 95 miles an hour. It’s kind of incredible that on average, umpires get it right about 94 to 97% of the time on strike calls. And umpires are getting better. The worst umpire today would have been upper tier in 1997. But the crazy high speed of the baseball means sometimes umpires are going to get it wrong. 

Katie Nolan [00:04:29] It just feels to me like it’s asking a lot of the umpire to be able to recognize if it nicked the inside of the strike zone on its way over the plate or if it didn’t. And I know we all make fun of the egregious calls, but I feel like some of them–you’re not standing back there, you’re not having to do it entirely with your eye, it’s gotta be really difficult. 

Roman Mars [00:04:52] One study from 2018 found that umpires blow about 14 calls every game. That’s 34,000 bad calls every year. And it makes a difference. Like in the Liván Hernández game. The Florida Marlins came out on top, and a few weeks later, they won the World Series. 

Chris Berube [00:05:09] These calls can make all the difference between a win and a loss–a championship and sitting at home for six months just wondering what could have been if he’d only made the right call. Given the human fallibility of umpires, Major League Baseball has been considering something drastic–something that would take us up to 100% accuracy. They have a plan to replace human umpires with robots. 

Roman Mars [00:05:38] Like any scenario where a human being is being replaced by a robot, there is the question of whether robots can do a better, more accurate job. 

Chris Berube [00:05:47] And in baseball–a sport that is legendary for its quirks and its general human imperfection–there’s another trickier question. Is more accurate what we actually want? 

Roman Mars [00:06:01] The idea of replacing an umpire with a machine isn’t new. In the 1950s, the Brooklyn Dodgers tested a robot umpire designed by General Electric. The GE umpire was a big machine that kind of looked like a barbecue hooked up to a specially tricked out home plate. If the ball cast a shadow over the plate, the machine would light up a big red button, indicating a strike. 

Chris Berube [00:06:21] The trouble is, the machine didn’t work very well. It made a lot of bad calls. And if it was a night game, the robot umpire just didn’t work at all. 

Roman Mars [00:06:30] In the 1950s, the technology just wasn’t ready, and the robot umpire went nowhere. For years, the idea seemed like a nonstarter. But a few years ago, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, said he was considering robot umps for the big leagues. 

Chris Berube [00:06:46] The robot umpires of the 21st century are a lot more sophisticated than a barbecue. But modern robot umpires–they aren’t technically robots. 

Zach Helfand [00:06:57] That’s what a lot of people picture is like, “Beep, boop, boop, boop”–kind of a metallic thing behind home plate–when really, it’s this system. 

Chris Berube [00:07:06] That’s Zack Helfand. He’s an editor and sportswriter at The New Yorker. And today’s version of the robot umpire is actually a series of HD cameras. But for some reason, the name Integrated Camera Baseball Tracking System has never caught on. So, for this story, we’re just going to keep calling them “robots.”

Zach Helfand [00:07:23] I prefer “robo.” I just think “robo” sounds better. 

Roman Mars [00:07:27] Baseball won’t be the first sport to use robos to referee games. In tennis, there’s a tracking system called Hawk-Eye that can pinpoint whether a ball is in or out of bounds. 

Tennis Commentator [00:07:36] And it was good. What a shot.

Chris Berube [00:07:41] And in soccer, they use motion tracking cameras to help determine offsides and whether the ball has crossed the goal line. 

Soccer Commentator [00:07:48] And the goal… has been disallowed. 

Chris Berube [00:07:52] In fact, most Major League Baseball stadiums already have a sophisticated ball tracking system in place. Those were installed in the early 2000s for TV broadcasts to give fans a clear picture of what happened during every pitch. 

Zach Helfand [00:08:06] To track things like exit velocity off the bat, how fast the ball is moving off the bat, spin rate it counts every single revolution of a baseball from when it leaves a pitcher’s hand to when it gets to the plate. So, they have these very sophisticated missile tracking systems, essentially, in ballparks. 

Chris Berube [00:08:23] By the way, he is not exaggerating. This is based on missile tracking technology. 

Roman Mars [00:08:28] If you’ve watched a baseball game on TV, you’ve seen this tracking system in action. In replays, broadcasters will show you charts and scatter plots to lay out where the ball landed inside the strike zone. But the umpires–the people actually making the calls–don’t have access to this information. Only viewers do, which creates some awkward moments for fans. 

Katie Nolan [00:08:50] Wait, if we know that’s a strike, why is he calling it a ball? It just doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t he have the information I have? He should make the right call. 

Chris Berube [00:08:58] But look, baseball is a pretty conservative sport. It’s slow to embrace change. So, for now, robot umpires are being tested on the minor leagues to work out some of the kinks and to help fans get used to the whole concept. 

Roman Mars [00:09:12] Since 2019, robot ump technology has been working its way through the minor leagues, where it’s called ABS for automatic balls and strikes. Last year, the ABS made its way to triple A, the highest level of minor league baseball. 

Chris Berube [00:09:27] I wanted to see this robot umpire–okay, ABS system–in action. So, I bought a ticket to watch some minor league baseball last summer in fabulous El Paso, Texas, where the hometown Chihuahuas were taking on the Albuquerque Isotopes. But I got COVID, so I had to watch the game at home. 

Baseball Commentator [00:09:45] And the Isotopes in position. Riley Smith will start his last eight final warm up tosses before we get underway with tonight’s game. 

Chris Berube [00:09:55] Coming into the game, I was worried the baseball experience would feel totally different without the umpires because for me they’re essential to the fabric of the game. But actually, I didn’t miss the human umpires because they were still there. 

Baseball Commentator [00:10:10] Fans, here are tonight’s umpires. Behind home plate is Dillon Wilson. Down the first base line, Cody Oakes. 

Roman Mars [00:10:17] For those of you worried about robots coming for human jobs, at least in this case, the humans are safe. Baseball still needs humans for lots of important jobs, like calling timeouts or cleaning home plate with those tiny, adorable brooms. 

Chris Berube [00:10:34] This robot empire was actually a collaboration between the ABS system that made the call and the human umpire who said it out loud. 

Zach Helfand [00:10:43] I listened with the earpiece along to a minor league game and it’s more or less instantaneous. The ball hits the glove. You kind of hear the smack of the ball in the glove. And a split second later, you hear, “Strike!” or “Ball…” And it’s funny–the strike is very peppy and, you know, sounds very encouraging. And the ball is “Ball…” Kind of disappointed. 

Fred DeJesus [00:11:07] It’s a man’s voice just saying, “Ball. Strike. Ball… Strike… Ball… Strike…” 

Chris Berube [00:11:15] That’s Fred DeJesus. He was actually the first umpire to use the ABS system in 2019. Fun fact, his earpiece is now part of the collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Fred DeJesus [00:11:26] I obviously couldn’t get there as a player, so my earpiece made it. My joke is six Puerto Ricans have made it and one Puerto Rican’s earpiece has made it. 

Chris Berube [00:11:39] Fred says at first, he was wary about the ABS, but he came around pretty quickly. 

Fred DeJesus [00:11:45] You know, when in Rome, you do what the Romans want. They wanted you to follow the system, you call it. 

Chris Berube [00:11:50] I know this collaboration sounds, you know, a little ridiculous–but watching the game, I was pleasantly surprised. It was pretty smooth. It didn’t look like a game umpired by a sophisticated missile robot. It just looked like a regular afternoon at the ballpark. 

Baseball Commentator [00:12:07] And so here’s Bernard, right-handed hitter against the lefty Groome. From the full windup, first pitch. 

Chris Berube [00:12:13] There are no publicly available statistics on the accuracy of the ABS system, but anecdotally, Fred DeJesus says it was pretty damn good. 

Fred DeJesus [00:12:23] It was very accurate. There were times where you would go, “Ooh.” But again, you did what that machine wanted. 

Chris Berube [00:12:33] There’s no dispute here; the ABS is more accurate than a human umpire. Fred says there were some minor glitches when he used it, but nothing that can’t be worked out by the time the system reaches the Major Leagues. The accuracy thing is huge because there’s just so much money on the line. A bad call at the wrong time can ruin a player’s career. And sports betting is such a huge industry now, I get why the Major Leagues want a more accurate system. But a few days after watching the robot umpire in action, my doubts started to creep back in because accuracy isn’t everything. Here’s Zach Helfand. 

Zach Helfand [00:13:12] I don’t think most people watch sports to see the fairest or most accurate outcome. For me, the argument comes down to efficiency and accuracy versus charm, drama, and dialogue. 

Chris Berube [00:13:32] The thing is, for more than a hundred years, baseball has been played by humans and umpired by other humans. And in that process, we’ve introduced lots of small quirks and inefficiencies. For example, baseball stadiums don’t have standard dimensions. So, a home run at Fenway Park might just be a long fly ball at Dodger Stadium. Baseball just has all these unstandardized things. 

Roman Mars [00:13:57] One of them is the application of the strike zone. Again, the textbook strike zone is supposed to be the player’s chest to their knees, over the plate. 

Chris Berube [00:14:05] But most human umpires don’t exactly follow those guidelines. There’s lots of pitches that are considered hittable that don’t land inside the textbook strike zone. And human umpires usually call those strikes. But the robot umpire–they’ve been slower to pick that up. 

Roman Mars [00:14:24] In 2019, the ABS system was introduced to the Atlantic League, and it was programmed to call the textbook strike zone. But most fans and players thought the system felt off. The robot was calling a lot of hittable pitches as balls. 

Zach Helfand [00:14:39] So when the strike zone is, you know, so coldly unchanging, that sometimes presents some problems. When the strike zone is smaller than what you’re used to, games can drag on. 

Roman Mars [00:14:53] Zach Helfand says the league needed to reprogram the ABS to be less accurate in how it called balls and strikes. 

Zach Helfand [00:14:59] They expanded it to about maybe an inch or an inch and a half off of the plate counts as a strike, and that better represented what the real strike zone is. 

Chris Berube [00:15:10] You can program the ABS to call a less accurate game. But you can’t program it to do all these other things that human umpires just do instinctively. So, I’m going to let you in on a little, dirty baseball secret–umpires are constantly changing the strike zone based on context. 

Zach Helfand [00:15:29] “It’s raining. Let’s move this along. Let’s get this over with.” Or “One team is up by a lot. Let’s just go home.” When a pitcher is struggling, there’s a demonstrable effect that the umpire zone gets bigger. Sometimes it gets as much as 50% bigger. That’s what they call the compassionate umpire effect. So, “A pitcher is having a really tough time, we’re going to help him out.” And they don’t do this consciously. 

Chris Berube [00:15:51] When you leave it up to the machines to decide balls and strikes, you’re ignoring years of training, experience, and intuition that every great umpire has. And you’re taking away one of those small imperfections that makes baseball kind of romantic. 

Zach Helfand [00:16:05] There is a tradeoff because you do lose this discussion. You do lose these quirks, these injustices, these twists of fate, where someone blinks or gets dirt in their eye and they kind of make a bad call, and that changes everything. I want to see how people react to that. We watch baseball to feel something, to divert ourselves–and sometimes it’s nice to feel righteously mad against an umpire or to feel like you got away with something. 

Chris Berube [00:16:30] Okay. But let’s talk about righteous anger for a minute because Zach is totally right. Yelling at the umpire is a part of the game. Umpires get yelled at by fans, players, and mascots pretty much nonstop because unlike other sports, baseball centers the umpire. The umpire is right behind the plate, making judgment calls on every play. And usually, the yelling is fun and cathartic, and professional umpires can handle it, but it sucks to experience that. Here’s Katie Nolan. 

Katie Nolan [00:17:04] Imagine going to work knowing you could get a shard of wood directly into your face or you could get hit by a 100 mile per hour projectile in the face on a bad day. The ceiling of this job is, like, you make calls that get people to tell you that you suck at your job, you’re the worst, and you ruined the game. 

Fred DeJesus [00:17:25] You know, I’ve got a video on Instagram right now that’s got over 3 million views where the player is saying, “Freddy, you’re the worst umpire in the league.” Now, he’s obviously joking, but this is what the world wants to hear. They want umpires to be ridiculed. 

Chris Berube [00:17:45] And it’s not just ridicule. There are stories of umpires receiving death threats or even being physically assaulted by fans. 

Newscasters [00:17:53] Tonight, a Staten Island parent, coach is accused of punching the umpire so hard it left him with a broken jaw. 

Chris Berube [00:18:02] People get carried away, and it can get scary. I remember this Little League game where I made a really bad third strike call and after the game, a coach was waiting to yell at me in the parking lot. The abuse is actually the primary reason that I stopped umpiring. And it’s why my favorite thing about the robot umps isn’t their accuracy. It’s their ability to bring down the temperature. Zach Helfand noticed this, too, when he saw a robot umpire in person. Fans were a lot less likely to get into arguments when they knew it was a machine making the calls. 

Zach Helfand [00:18:37] Some fans–as fans do and as is part of the pleasure of baseball–were heckling the umpire when I was out there. At one point, one of the fans who did know that they were using robo umpires this season in that league pointed up at the hardware above home plate and said, “You know, it’s not the umpire. This is just the strike zone.” And the fan was humiliated in a certain way–very humbled–and was like, “You know what? It’s actually calling a pretty good game.” 

Chris Berube [00:19:10] Watching the Isotopes/Chihuahuas game, I remember this one at bat. So, the Isotopes’ third baseman, Taylor Snyder, was at the plate. 

Baseball Commentator [00:19:18] Still one and two, bases juiced. Here’s the pitch. Takes a called third strike, breaking ball inside corner. That ends the inning. Isotopes do not score. 

Chris Berube [00:19:31] So the batter, Snyder–he disagreed with the call. He thought it was inside, and he was clearly furious. He starts to turn towards the ump, and it looks like he is ready to yell. But then he didn’t. He stopped himself, and he walked back to the dugout. I’d never seen that before. And for me, that’s a big plus for the idea of robot umps. 

Roman Mars [00:19:56] Ultimately, the robot umpires are coming. They’re going to be used in all Triple-A games this season. Some games will use a full robot umpire system, while others will use the robot umpire as an appeal system if the player doesn’t like a call. 

Chris Berube [00:20:09] Robot umpires are probably going to show up in the Major Leagues in the next couple of years. And I know baseball purists are going to be really mad. I get that. I don’t love the general idea of robots muscling in on human jobs. But I think I can live with this new technology because I’m in favor of anything that makes us see umpires as people–even if that thing is a robot. 

Roman Mars [00:20:45] More sports talk radio with Chris Berube after this. Today’s episode of 99% Invisible is brought to you by SimpliSafe Home Security. Would you do everything it took to protect your family? Of course, you would. SimpliSafe home security makes it easy to protect every inch of your home with advanced security tech powered by 24/7, professional monitoring. In an emergency, SimpliSafe’s professional monitoring agents use Fast Protect technology to capture critical evidence and verify the threat is real so you can get priority police dispatch. 24/7 professional monitoring service costs under $1 a day, less than half the price of traditional home security systems. You can lock and unlock your doors, access cameras, and arm and disarm your system from anywhere. You can tell that good design was at the top of everyone’s mind when they made the SimpliSafe app and devices. The base station even talks you through the setup. Customize the perfect system for your home in just a few minutes at Go today and claim your free indoor security camera plus 20% off your order with interactive monitoring. That’s There’s no safe like SimpliSafe. Many of today’s occupations didn’t really exist a decade ago. Driverless car engineers, cryptocurrency analysts, podcasters–if I’m being honest. From Etsy seller to emoji translator, new opportunities to build a career are popping up every day. And Squarespace is the ultimate tool for professionals to build a site to market their brand and sell anything. Features like Squarespace Analytics allow you to use insights to grow your business. The appointment scheduling feature allows you to add online booking and scheduling to your Squarespace website. With the video studio app feature, you can create and share Pro-Level videos. Squarespace even offers a member area feature, where you can sell access to gated content, like videos, online courses, or newsletters. All the modern tools you need for the new jobs of today. Head to for a free trial, and when you’re ready to launch, use the offer code “invisible” to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. If you like getting the best of everything, then check out T-Mobile. T-Mobile’s 5G coverage is bigger than AT&T and Verizon’s combined. So, it’s no wonder they have the most National 5G Network Awards ever. Not only does T-Mobile have a great network, but their plans are packed full of incredible extras. Customers can get a value of over $225 in benefits every single month on their MAX family plans. Benefits like travel perks and your favorite streaming services all included, which is very, very nice. Who says you can’t have it all? With T-Mobile, you don’t have to choose between a great network or great value. Find out more at That’s seewhy. Qualifying service and capable device required. $225 is based on the retail value of available monthly benefits with MAX. This time of year means spring cleaning. And it’s also your annual reminder that you need more storage space. Article has everything you need to organize your bedroom, living room, and dining room with dressers, nightstands, sideboards, and more. I think my favorite piece of furniture in my house is my Geome sideboard. It’s where I hold my records and CDs. And I’m going to anticipate your next question–yes, I still have hundreds of CDs. You know why? Because if I did not have the CD of Bob Mould’s Hubcap album, I wouldn’t be able to listen to it. It’s not really available for streaming, but I don’t worry about that because I have the CD in the upper right corner of my Geome sideboard. Plus, Article has all the other furniture you want to get your space looking its best. Thanks to their online-only model, Article has some really delightful prices too. Article offers fast, affordable shipping across the U.S. and Canada. Plus, you pick the delivery time. They’ll send you updates every step of the way. Their knowledgeable customer care team is there when you need them to make sure your experience is smooth and stress free. Article is offering our listeners $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. To claim, visit and the discount will automatically be applied at checkout. That’s for $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. So, we’re back with Chris Berube. Chris, I am so sorry you didn’t get to see those minor league baseball games this summer because of COVID. That’s terrible. 

Chris Berube [00:25:30] Thank you. I know. My favorite thing to do every summer is to go see some minor league baseball. And I used to go see the Brooklyn Cyclones all the time, who play down at Coney Island. And they have a roller coaster in left field because the stadium is right next to the amusement park down there. And I remember one time I went, and I asked somebody at the stadium like, “Well, what happens if they hit a home run into the roller coaster? Aren’t you worried about that?” And he’s like, “It’s never happened. We’re not at all worried about that.” 

Roman Mars [00:25:57] I mean, I just love all these minor league baseball team names. The Brooklyn Cyclones is such a great name. 

Chris Berube [00:26:02] I know. I kind of love how ridiculous they are. Like, we mentioned the Albuquerque Isotopes–that one’s actually a Simpsons joke. 

Roman Mars [00:26:09] Yeah, I was wondering that. So that started as a Simpsons joke and then became real in real life? 

Chris Berube [00:26:14] That’s right. So, the Springfield Isotopes is the team in The Simpsons because Homer Simpson works at a nuclear power plant. And there’s an episode where they threatened to move to Albuquerque. And then the real-life Albuquerque team was like,” Ha, ha, ha. That’s funny. We’re just going to adopt that as our team name.” 

Roman Mars [00:26:30] That’s awesome. I love that. 

Chris Berube [00:26:31] I love that one, too. The ridiculous team name thing–that’s actually a pretty recent thing in minor league baseball. So, in the past, there used to be this convention where the minor league team would share a name with the Major League team they were affiliated with. So, say you have the New York Mets–they have a minor league team, it’s called the Binghamton Mets, for example. 

Roman Mars [00:26:51] Right. That makes sense. 

Chris Berube [00:26:52] But in the 21st century, we’ve seen this big craze of picking more distinct, more ridiculous names. So, in 2016, the Binghamton Mets became the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, for example. 

Roman Mars [00:27:05] Okay. I think my favorite of this is the Rocket City Trash Pandas, which are a team in Huntsville, Alabama. That’s a pretty good one. 

Chris Berube [00:27:13] So good. I mean, I love so many of them. The Hartford Yard Goats is a favorite of mine. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The Akron RubberDucks. The Amarillo Sod Poodles. It’s a long list. 

Roman Mars [00:27:27] Wait, what’s a sod poodle? 

Chris Berube [00:27:28] It’s a prairie dog. I think their logo is, like, a prairie dog with a cowboy hat. 

Roman Mars [00:27:31] Oh, of course. That makes sense. So why are there so many like this? And why is this kind of a recent phenomenon? 

Chris Berube [00:27:38] So the reason that they’re so ridiculous is because, you know, you sell a lot more merch this way. So, if your team name is the Binghamton Mets, for example, if somebody wants a Mets hat, they’re going to get the New York Mets, right? They’re not going to get the second level minor league team. But if your name is the Rumble Ponies, you get all this free publicity. That was written up in The New York Times when they changed the name. Their whole thing is like, “Look, you don’t have a huge budget for publicity. This is free publicity. Just go with it and, you know, unashamedly take on the ridiculous name.”

Roman Mars [00:28:09] I guess that makes a lot of sense. I mean, but do the old school, you know, minor league baseball fans like this? 

Chris Berube [00:28:16] Oh, no. I mean, baseball fans are way too serious, right? So, you can get used to anything, I think. But a lot of them don’t like it because of the random word generator quality to some of these. Like, Akron RubberDucks feels like you put it into an AI and were like, “Come up with a silly name,” and they did it. But the really good ones–they actually aren’t random. Like, usually there is something interesting and local that the name is rooted in. 

Roman Mars [00:28:38] Oh, okay. So, what are some good examples of that? 

Chris Berube [00:28:41] Okay, let’s go through the list. Credit to baseball writer Matt Snyder, who wrote about this last year. It was very helpful for my research. Hopefully this will make you appreciate these ridiculous minor league baseball team names. Okay. Hartford Yard Goats. There are not goats wandering the yards of Connecticut–that’s not what it’s a reference to. The stadium where they play is built on an old rail yard, and a yard goat is a vehicle for moving cars around in a railyard. So, it’s a reference to the geography of the stadium. 

Roman Mars [00:29:10] Oh… Well, I didn’t know that. But the meaning is somewhat obscured by the fact that I think their logo is a goat, though, right? Like, an actual goat? 

Chris Berube [00:29:18] Yeah, their logo’s actually a goat, snapping a baseball bat in half. Let’s see. Okay. Binghamton Rumble Ponies. Binghamton is the carousel capital of the United States–self-described. But that’s why it’s a reference to, like, this interesting local quirk. The IronPigs. Lehigh Valley, of course, is in Pennsylvania. That’s a state with a huge steel industry. And pig iron is the material that comes out of a blast furnace that you don’t have to refine to make steel. So, it’s actually, like, a reference to local industry. 

Roman Mars [00:29:46] Oh. Love it. 

Chris Berube [00:29:47] And then my favorite–the El Paso Chihuahuas. So, El Paso, Texas is right on the border with Mexico. And the Mexican state of Chihuahua is right across the Rio Grande. So, it’s a nod to the really significant Mexican influence on the city. 

Roman Mars [00:30:03] And nothing to do with little dogs? 

Chris Berube [00:30:05] I mean, once again, their logo is a little dog. It is not a map with El Paso and, like, the Rio Grande Valley or anything. So, I mean, my point is, the next time someone says, “Oh, that’s so random. Where do they come up with these names?” Like, it’s not random; there is something local about these names, which I prefer to more serious names that are kind of generic, that don’t have anything to do with the place where the team is playing. So, say The Grizzlies, The Eagles, you know… 

Roman Mars [00:30:35] Or you know, in other sports, like the Utah Jazz, where a franchise moves to a place that it once had meaning. But then, you know, the meaning is no longer relevant to the place that they land.

Chris Berube [00:30:45] Yeah, the Utah Jazz used to be the New Orleans Jazz. And then they just moved the team they kept the name. 

Roman Mars [00:30:50] Exactly. 

Chris Berube [00:30:51] That was so lazy–they couldn’t even come up with a different team name–because, yeah, with all due respect to Utah, not the same rich jazz heritage as New Orleans. I think we’re safe to say that. 

Roman Mars [00:31:02] Yeah, I think we’re safe to say that. Well, thank you for this tour of minor league baseball team names. I actually really do appreciate how strange, cool, local, and specific they are. So, thanks for that. 

Chris Berube [00:31:15] Of course. Thank you, Roman. 

Roman Mars [00:31:26] 99% Invisible was produced this week by Chris Berube. Edited by Kelly Prime. Sound mix by Martín Gonzalez. Music by Swan Real.  Fact-checking by Graham Hacia. Delaney Hall is our Senior Editor. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. The rest of the team includes Emmett FitzGerald, Christopher Johnson, Vivian Le, Jayson De Leon, Lasha Madan, Jeyca Maldonado Medina, Joe Rosenberg, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. Special thanks this week to Bobby Lord, Matt Shilts, Rick White, and all the baseball umpires we spoke to for this story. And thank you to Zach Helfand who was also very, very helpful for this story – you can read his reporting on robot umpires in The New Yorker. 99% Invisible is part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building — in beautiful uptown Oakland, California. You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok too. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99pi at 

Baseball Organ Voice [00:32:49] Stitcher! Sirius! XM!

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