Thursday, October 8, 2009

‘Accountability’ Should Be Simple, But With Umpires and Officials It’s Often Not

I can tell you before I write a word this morning that I'm going to struggle writing the blog today. The reason is simple: my coffeemaker is broken. Drinking coffee has been part of my morning routine since I started swimming and working at the golf club when I was in high school. I don't just like drinking the coffee, I like the IDEA of drinking the coffee. I now have a collection of coffee mugs from my travels that stretches back to my junior year in college when I bought a Red Sox coffee mug on my first trip to Fenway Park. I still have it. There is no more enjoyable part of my day than making the coffee, picking a mug and sitting down at the kitchen table to read the newspapers. I realize that dates me but it is what I do. Once I've had coffee and read the papers I feel ready to face the day.

I know I can go and buy coffee--or a new coffee maker after I drop my son off at school. Not the same. I've already read the papers. I feel like Miss Clavelle in Madeleine: Something is not right.

So, I will soldier on and do my best. I hope you will bear with me.

I know the baseball playoffs will become dramatic soon enough but it's kind of funny what a letdown yesterday was--not for the Phillies, Yankees or Dodgers--after Tuesday's remarkable Twins-Tigers playoff game. All three home teams won and they did it fairly easily. The only real surprise was seeing Chris Carpenter giving up line drives all over Dodger Stadium. After the Cardinals only score one run after loading the bases with no one out in the top of the first I went to make sure Danny was doing his homework upstairs. By the time I came back down, the Dodgers were up 2-1. You don't expect that with Carpenter pitching.

People were still talking about the Twins Tuesday victory yesterday and I saw one thing that was disturbing and brought to mind a major complaint I have with the way sports are run. Jim Leyland was as gracious as one could be under the circumstances after his team's loss. He said that the Tigers had plenty of chances to win the division and didn't get it done but he was upset that no one from Major League Baseball has acknowledged that home plate umpire Randy Marsh simply didn't see the ball graze Brandon Inge's uniform on the leg with the bases loaded in the 12th inning. If Marsh gets the call right the Tigers--worst case scenario--take a 6-5 lead to the bottom of the 12th. As I said yesterday I'm not convinced they win the game at that juncture because Fernando Rodney was pretty much done.

Leyland's complaint is legitimate. Marsh was quoted yesterday as saying he hadn't seen a replay that showed the ball hitting Inge. If so, he must have looked at completely different replays than everyone else in the country had the chance to see.

Worse than that though is this comment from Mike Port, MLB's supervisor of umpires:  "If Randy Marsh, who has worked about 4,000 games said the replays he saw were inconclusive then I would have to agree with his assessment at this point."

Huh? The umpire says he didn't blow the call so the supervisor simply takes him at his word? What's the point of having a supervisor then? Port's job is to tell the public what HE saw on the replays not what Randy Marsh says he saw or didn't see. That's a complete copout. Port and Marsh should say, "the call was missed and we're very sorry." That doesn't change the result but, as in all things, everyone feels better when someone who makes a mistake admits it.

This gets into a large issue: the accountability--or lack of it--among officials in all sports. Officials should be required to speak to the media, especially in controversial situations, the same way players and coaches and managers are required to do so. I'm not saying you open the door to their locker room and let 100 guys and camera crews pile in. But if a request to speak to an official is made it should be honored, at the very least by sending in a pool reporter.

At the NCAA basketball tournament, pool reporters are designated at every site. But the reporter can only speak to officials if a rules question is raised. If an official hits a team with three technicals or tees up a coach you can't go ask him for his side of what happened. To be honest, I think that's bad for the officials because more often than not telling their side will be helpful.

Baseball umpires have more discretion than most officials. If a reporter knocks on their door to ask a question they can decide whether to talk or not to talk. As I said yesterday, in the old days most umpires were more than willing to talk--on almost any subject--and I thought it helped us (media, fans) understand them better.

Two years ago, when I was doing my book on Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, an umpire named Tony Randazzo badly blew a key call in a Glavine-pitched game in Washington. Glavine, who almost never showed up an umpire, went semi-crazy when Randazzo made a safe call on a play at first base where the runner was out by at least a step. Willie Randolph, the Mets manager, came out to protect Glavine and (according to Randolph) said, 'Tony, just tell me you missed it and I'll go back in the dugout.' Randazzo's response was to scream at Randolph that he had NOT missed the call and when Randolph got angry he compounded the whole thing by ejecting him.

Randazzo missed two other calls that night causing Gary Cohen, the Mets TV play-by-play guy to say the next day (The Mets won in extra innings but Glavine didn't get a win when he was fighting to get to 300) "give Randazzo credit for consistency. He had three calls to make in the game and he missed them all."

By then I had talked to Glavine and Randolph and thought I should give Randazzo a chance to tell his side. I felt pretty sure that he would have looked at the video by then--all umps locker room have video equipment so they can see plays as soon as a game is over--and would probably say, "you know I missed that one in the sixth. I feel bad about it." That's what good officials do.

I knocked on the door of the umpires’ locker room and was greeted by one of the umpires--I'm not honestly sure which one--but I knew it wasn't Randazzo. I introduced myself asked if I could speak to Randazzo and explained why. The ump closed the door, came back a minute later and said, "He's got nothing to say." I gave it one more shot, explaining this incident WOULD be in the book and I really wanted to give him a chance to respond to Glavine and Randolph. The door closed again. A moment later it opened. "He has no comment."

I shrugged. I had tried. But I took it one step further because for all I knew Tony Randazzo had sat there and said, 'book, what book? What the hell is the guy talking about?' There ARE people who don't get what I do. So, I called Port. I explained the situation. "Oh yeah, Tony should talk to you," he said. "I know what call you're talking about. (the implication being he knew it was a badly blown call). I'll get in touch with him for you."

This was in May. I finished the book in October. There are no quotes from Tony Randazzo in the book.

Last Saturday at Navy an official made a horrible call on a roughing the passer call that could have cost Navy the game. Think he was available to explain his thinking afterwards?

I am NOT, by any means, a basher of officials. I know a lot of them and like a lot of them. I have traveled with college basketball referees while doing book research. I think almost all of them try to be as good as they can be at their jobs. Like players and coaches and the rest of us they make mistakes on the job. That's one reason why replay is now a part of all our major sports because humans are fallible and officiating is a tough job.

But it's not right that they are frequently not held accountable. In that same game Saturday, Air Force's kicker missed a 31-yard field goal in overtime, costing Air Force its last chance to win. The same kid--and he is a kid--had made a field goal to put the game into overtime minutes earlier. A few minutes after the miss, he stood outside his locker room and talked to the media. Why should he have to answer questions when the ref who made the horrific call--a grown man--doesn't have to answer?

Okay, I got that off my chest. Now I'm going to go buy a new coffeemaker.


Anonymous said...

I have a coffee issue some mornings, usually because I run out, then I have to run to a Starbucks or corner market.....but on to this accountability issue. Is it everyone protecting their jobs, thinking if we don't admit mistakes, no one will notice? Is it pure arrogance? Are folks told by PR firms not to admit mistakes? I don't know that umpires have them, but the latter is my guess.

No offense to those of you good folks who work in PR, and do it well, but I've run across many idiots in that field who simply don't get 'it'.

dcsooner said...


How would you compare your radio gaff to John Thompson IIs comments on yesterday's show. On the internet feed he called the Sherm Smith hiring B-ll S-it, not once but twice.

Wish there was an XM version of that show. Doc and Coach could probably make Carlin blush in his grave.

Optimality said...

Good to see you finally commenting on officials. During your many years of covering ACC basketball I often wondered, " Why do reporters ask the Coach to comment on a bad call?" The Coach would be disciplined for commenting.

But the reporter saw the bad call or wouldn't have asked ! Why not write about what you saw?

Since there is no recourse, the only judgment for referees is the Media, who largely remain silent.

Trish in the hood said...

I love your opening, I too, relish the mornings I can sit with a cup of coffee, my current mug from Berlin, Germany with ladybugs on it, and read the paper. Great article, amazing refs and umps aren't all like Ed Hochuli, wouldn't that be refreshing?

Shaun E in PC said...

Did you go with a keurig maker?

Sarah said...

I think you need a little coffee because I saw the Twins game too. And yes, the ball did graze the billowing shirt (not leg) in the twelfth, however, there was also a questionable 3rd strike call against the Twins a couple of innings earlier which, on replay and the strike zone cam clearly showed it to be a ball. So things go both ways. Detroit didn't deserve to win. They blew a huge lead and the Twins worked hard and plugged along-plus they are a great home-town team. So it's kind of sad that you should try to make their win something less spectacular than it was.