For most of the last two weeks I have tried to stay away from writing about the lousy umpiring during this baseball postseason. For one thing, how many times can you say, 'the umpires missed a call last night.' For another, I really DON'T like to pick on officials because, as I've said before, the ones I've known have been almost universally good guys who I think work very hard to get their calls right. I still remember Joe Forte, once a top college referee who went on to work in the NBA telling me, "To me, reffing is the way I still play the game (he had been a D-2 college player). My calls are my shots and I hate it when I miss one."
Having said that, in the wake of Major League Baseball's apparent decision to abandon tradition and use only umpires with past World Series experience, there are a number of things that more or less scream for comment. First the good news: Let's give MLB credit for admitting it has a problem right now and making this move. That's not to say that going with the more experienced guys guarantees there won't be problems: the two umps who have struggled in the Yankees-Angels series, Tim McClelland and Dale Scott are both experienced guys with good reputations. Still, this is a step in the right direction.
The story, which was broken by the Associated Press (unlike ESPN the AP breaks actual stories rather than CLAIMING to have broken stories) has some interesting numbers in it: In 24 of the last 25 World Series, there has been at least one ump--more often two--who has never worked The Series before. Now, obviously everyone who is qualified has to work their first Series at some point, but MLB has clearly been over-doing it. What's more, even though MLB claims that umpires are selected for postseason on merit, that's clearly not the case.
If so, how could umpires like C.B. Bucknor and Phil Cuzzi--bad umps with bad reps and bad tempers--be working postseason? Bucknor clearly blew two calls in the Red Sox-Angels series and, in a postseason filled with bad calls, Cuzzi had the poster child miss: calling Joe Mauer's clearly fair ball foul in the 11th inning of Yankees-Twins, game 2. Apparently Bucknor--according to the AP--was still in line to work The Series in spite of those missed calls and in spite of the fact that I have NEVER talked to a player or manager who thought he could ump a lick. I'm not trying to pick on the guy, I've never met him and he may be a wonderful person, but I can't find anyone who thinks he can umpire. The same is pretty much true of Cuzzi.
All of this brings up a larger issue: officiating in general. Just this week SEC Commissioner Mike Slive felt obligated to suspend an officiating crew after it clearly blew a critical call (at least one) for the second time in three weeks. Good for Slive, although his line about having the best officials in college football rings kind of hollow at the moment.
I have a couple of thoughts on this: first, I think instant replay has hurt officiating in general. It may be sub-conscious but I think officials now think they don't have to work as hard to get calls right because replay is there as a backup--although replay doesn't always get it right either. Maybe it would help--seriously--if when a call is overturned the referee announced, "the ruling on the field made by the line judge has been overturned." When a player commits a penalty or a foul, everyone in the stadium knows he did it. When an official blows a call and it is officially overturned, people should know who it is AND mistakes like that should be tracked. I've always believed nothing motivates people like being embarrassed. If USA Today ran a weekly list on overturned calls--as in 1. Joe Smith--7 overturns this season--I think that would motivate officials to hustle a little bit more.
I've already said before I think officials should be accountable after games for their calls. They should also be subject to fines if they say something stupid the way coaches and players (at the pro level) are. Any criticism of officials is subject to fine. Okay then, if an umpire like Randy Marsh says he never saw the ball hit Brandon Inge's shirt (Detroit-Minnesota) then
, the MLB umpiring supervisor should be able to say, "The video is clear cut, he missed the call and since he isn't willing to admit it, he's going to be fined $5,000." Do that and you can bet you won't hear Tim McLelland saying, "I don't believe the video," after he called Nick Swisher out for leaving third base too soon the other night and the video showed he not only got the call wrong but wasn't LOOKING at Swisher when he left the bag. Mike Port
I know this sounds harsh but I'll say it one more time: officials should be subjected to the same scrutiny as players. I think this is even more true at the college level where the officials get paid and the players (ostensibly) don't. The
kids who were the victims of the phantom personal foul call in the Arkansas game will NOT get another chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country on the road this season or perhaps in their lives. The officials simply move on to their next game. Slive should not only suspend them he should dock them their paychecks for the two games they screwed up. Florida
Of course to me the poster child on all this is an ACC line judge named Perry Hudspeth. He's the guy who blew the mark on a fourth down Notre Dame pass 10 years ago, giving Notre Dame a first down (by an inch) with a minute to go and the Irish out of time outs. Eight years later, when Navy finally won at Notre Dame someone called Hudspeth to ask him if he was glad, in light of what had happened in 1999, to see Navy finally end its 43 year losing streak (which would have ended at 35 if not for Hudspeth) against Notre Dame. Instead of just saying, "you know, I've looked at the replay and I made a mistake. I certainly regret it, I've worked hard since then to not let something like that happen again," Hudspeth said something about his supervisor backing him up on the call. Sure he did, just like
said Randy Marsh must be right because he's umped 4,000 games. THAT kind of answer really makes me angry. Mike Port
Which brings me full circle to yesterday's blog on the BCS--the people who have re-invented the term, "never wrong no matter how wrong." (Maybe that should be their slogan, huh?). My friend and one-time student Seth Davis twittered that I had gone, "Joe Wilson," on the BCS since I called the presidents liars. (which they are). I appreciate the fact that Seth is reading but Joe Wilson? Me? I'd prefer Ma Bailey, who tells her non-existent son George (Jimmy Stewart) "IT'S A LIE!" when he tries to convince her he's her son in "It's A Wonderful Life." I'm more a Ma Bailey type than Joe Wilson.
One other note on yesterday: the posts about the BCS were terrific. One person brought up the notion that if you offered the Presidents more money they'd go the playoff route right away. That's not quite true. While they'd love the extra cash, what they don't want to give up is CONTROL. Right now, it's their ball and they can do whatever they want with it. A playoff would have to put on by the NCAA--like the tournaments in every other sport--and they don't want to give up their absolute power.
Have I mentioned how much I can't stand them?