We have spent quite a few words since the inception of our blog, railing on poor officiating. This ranges from the simply incompetent, to the blatantly cheating and corrupt, and encompasses the middle ground of the mediocre and inconsistent. Moreover, officiating as a whole is getting worse. Across all sports, we are seeing more bad calls, and accordingly, increasingly negative sentiment toward officials from players. Really, something ought to be done. But you know what, it won’t. Really, it can’t. Not until, anyway, the major sports abandon their idiotic blanket philosophy about shielding umpires/referees from the media.
The arguments against making officials have to answer for questionable calls seem valid on the surface. What good does it do to subject an umpire to the same question from a vampiric horde of reporters out for blood? 20 minutes of subjecting a guy to you really missed that call and cost the Orioles a couple of runs, how does that make you feel? is not productive. Neither is well, your crew gave the Panthers 9 power plays and Calgary only 3, how do you explain that BS? It then just becomes a carnival attraction where the umpires become the paper bulls’ eyes and the reporters become the unsteady children wielding the poorly sighted pellet gun, and the only stuffed animal available as a prize is a defensive we do the best we can from the officials.
And that is the problem. They don’t do the best they can. I’m not saying they don’t try their best, but they don’t do their best and there is a huge difference. How can they possibly do their best when there is no repercussion for getting it wrong? As a wise man once made up on the spot said, consequences only affect those to whom they apply. So when Jeff Nelson and Bill Welke somehow contrive to BOTH screw up an obvious strike three to Boston shortstop Mike Aviles, gifting the Red Sox three runs, to whom do the consequences apply? Certainly not to Nelson and Welke, who will resume posts on the field tonight and the next night without ever having to explain themselves, but most DEFINITELY to Jim Leyland’s Detroit Tigers who lost the game as a direct result of this double blown call. Sure, it’s all over ESPN today but that’s only because Leyland went on an expletive-laced tirade in front of reporters, challenging them to sack up and call a spade a spade.
Last night, Todd Tichenor erroneously ruled Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Norichika Aoki safe at first, saying that James Loney’s foot had come off the bag while fielding Aaron Harang’s throw. Replays clearly showed Loney’s foot on the bag, and it wasn’t close. Loney’s foot didn’t come off the bag until noticeably after he had caught Harang’s throw, and not just in slow motion. Despite this, Tichenor visibly tells an arguing Don Mattingly that he is “100% sure” of his call. This was pure crap, not just because Tichenor was clearly wrong, but also clearly positioned horribly on the play due to nothing other than laziness. Sure, Harang could have made a better throw and the play wouldn’t have been anywhere near subject to debate, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tichenor could have tried to get in better position for the call, but simply didn’t. It’s hard to argue that the subconscious knowledge that it doesn’t really matter in the large scheme of things whether he gets the call right or not had no effect on that. On the game, however, it had a huge effect. Milwaukee scored two runs as a sole result of the botched call, and the Dodgers lost by one. And before you think I only highlight calls that go against the Dodgers because I’m a Dodger fan… ok, well, you’d be right. But if I wasn’t biased, I might mention that the Dodgers may have benefitted from horrifically lazy umpiring early in the season by way of a triple play against the Padres that ultimately saved the game, and wouldn’t have happened.
The issues are not confined to baseball. In this year’s NHL playoffs, Raffi Torres targets Marian Hossa’s head with a cheap shot and gets a 25 game suspension. Shea Weber targets Henrik Zetterberg’s head with a cheap shot and gets a $2,500 fine. That’s like me doing 100mph in a school zone and getting a $2 speeding ticket. Sure, everyone except for Raffi Torres’ mother thinks he’s a piece of feces with a history of dirty play, while Weber is a team leader with very few if any questionable incidents in his history report, but we really don’t know because Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s discipline czar, is not really required to explain himself. The Phoenix Coyotes may also feel aggrieved that the referees failed to call even a minor penalty on Dustin Brown mere seconds before my beloved LA Kings sent them back to the desert, after Brown injured Phoenix defenseman Michal Roszival with a questionable hit. Replays show that the hit wasn’t dirty, and that Roszival’s injury is unfortunate, rather than the result of a malicious cheap shot, but replays also show that the hit came slightly after the whistle so perhaps a two minute penalty for roughing wouldn’t have been unreasonable. The Kings may still have won the game, and almost certainly would have still won the series, but they certainly wouldn’t have won it in the 20 seconds following the hit, and Phoenix is left to wonder why the whistles were swallowed. And they’ll never get an explanation, because as it currently stands, they’re not entitled to one. They can’t even ASK too vociferously because anything even hinting at a criticism of refs in a post-game press conference leads to fines.
Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers got called for a technical foul during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat for what appeared to be dissent, or arguing a call. That may or may not have happened. Replays would appear to indicate that Rivers didn’t really say anything inflammatory enough to warrant a technical. Could it have been an accumulation? Belly aching about every single call until the ref has finally had enough? Sure… but guess what. We will never know. Why? BECAUSE THE REFEREES ARE NOT REQUIRED TO EXPLAIN THEMSELVES.
I could spend another thousand words, or ten thousand, outlining specific examples of terrible calls but it would be beating a dead horse. As long as there is no consequence for getting a call wrong, there is no impetus for getting it right, and lack of impetus will breed laziness. It’s that simple. So, I propose the following.
In cases where a botched call (conclusively determined as botched on replay) causes an impact on the outcome of a game or irrevocably changes its course, teams may submit a request for explanation to a league body via email. Within 48 hours, the league body would have to submit a response via email granting or denying that request. If granted, the offending official would have to submit an official statement via the league office and available to the media about the situation, admitting that the call was gotten wrong and an explanation of why. We’re not talking about a bang bang play at first, where a billionth of a second is the difference between out and safe. A missed call like that can and does happen, and nobody dwells on it too long. I’m talking about stuff like Tim Welke ruling Jerry Hairston out at first base despite Todd Helton being off the bag by roughly the width of an interstate highway lane. Welke is a decent umpire and human being by all accounts, but he was irrefutably lazy on this call and had he paid any semblance of attention or bothered to be in position, he’d have gotten it right. He should have had to submit, assuming the Dodgers requested one, an official statement to the tune of, “I ruled the runner out on the play, clearly the replay shows my call was incorrect. I did not get myself in good position to make the call and as a result, the angle I was at kept me from seeing the call properly. I apologize for the mistake and will work hard to ensure that I don’t make the same one again. Nobody is perfect, but this is one that I should have gotten right.”
What would be wrong with that? That’s right, nothing. And before you dismiss the notion that holding officials accountable is a ridiculous notion for any reason involving ego, take the following quote into consideration. “It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the (poo) out of it.” That was Jim Joyce admitting he got it wrong with two outs in the ninth, costing Andres Galarraga a perfect game. Joyce was not forced to own up, he just did. That might have something to do with why he is among pro sports’ most respected officials by players, fans, coaches, etc. For every Joe West, who thinks the game is really about him, there is a guy like Joyce, who understands how important his role is, and doesn’t take it lightly.