Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pretty Big Problem

If it were any other pitcher, normally I'd say that 7 innings of one hit baseball (allowing only 2 runs), 9 strikeouts, and a win against the team with the second most runs in baseball (and leading the game in home runs) is pretty good. But since it's Javy Vazquez I know if I did so my co-author would tell me I'm just looking for a silver lining, so I'll just refrain.

The umpiring in baseball has been a problem for a while, by far the worst officiating of the three most major professional sports in this country (I have no idea about hockey). It has also been getting worse for a while. The 2009 playoffs were off the charts, as other playoffs have been, but this one for whatever reason seemed to garner a particular amount of attention and bring the issue of poor umpiring in baseball to the forefront. Considering there are six umpires on the field in the playoffs, you can certainly understand the cause for concern.

However for me that is not what it's about. You could have 10 umpires out there and calls would still get missed. That's the nature of the game and the nature of sports. Missed calls are frustrating but they happen.

What it's about for me is that the umpiring has gotten worse (and the umpires have to know how much negative attention they are getting) some of the biggest problem umpires have become even more defiant. Joe West has already been involved in three pretty questionable situations this year. He opened his mouth for no reason on a topic he really shouldn't be concerned about regarding the Yankees and Red Sox. He was involved in an altercation with the White Sox/Ozzie Guillen/Mark Buerhle over some iffy balk calls. And just a few days ago he reversed a call at third base from first base. Normally I'd have no problem with this last one, but in conjunction with these other "look at me" moments, it's an issue because you don't know if he really had the call or if he just wanted to be part of the action. And that's exactly the problem. It's cliche at this point, but some umpires just don't understand that the fans aren't there to see them.

As the umpiring continues to get worse in general, many of the worst in terms of calls made seem to suffer from the same lack of understanding of this simple concept. Angel Hernandez and C.B. Bucknor are two of the worst umpires in the game, and they are constantly inserting themselves unnecessarily into situations. Just today, the homeplate umpire in the Yankees/Blue Jays game was lost with balls and strikes. I completely understand that there is a big subjective element to balls and strikes, and no two strike zones are exactly the same. It's too difficult of a job to accomplish that anyway. However there has to be a general guide. This guy's strikezone was about 6 inches too high both on the bottom and top of the strikezone. That is absolutely too much, because it changes the norm of what players are used to by too much. But as if this isn't bad enough, he takes control of a check swing call in a key spot in the 8th inning, ringing Nick Swisher up even though he did not swing without even checking with his 3rd base umpire. This is inexcusable. I know I've said something along these lines before, but first, how can you watch balls and strikes and also watch whether or not a batter checks his swing from that angle? Second, if you aren't going to check with the third base umpire, what is he there for, only to call out and safe and third base? I mean, even if you have the call, why wouldn't you just check with someone in a better angle who has less to worry about? It defies common sense.

That is really the whole issue for me. It isn't enough for some umpires to just make bad calls, or in certain instances to just be really bad at what they do. They have to go the extra mile and really call attention to themselves in unnecessary ways. You can accept missed calls. What you can't accept are some of these attitudes where umpires seem to think they can just do whatever they want out there with no repercussions. Seriously, in what other industry can you be this bad at something, have a bad attitude on top of it, and just consistently get away with it?

I don't want to include all umpires in this. There are a lot of really good ones. There are also some average and bad ones that are more than fine in my book because despite blowing more calls than they should, don't have this ridiculous sense of entitlement.

Interestingly, even though Jim Joyce blew one of the biggest calls you can ever blow this past week, he should really be viewed as a model for how umpires should conduct themselves. He acknowledged the missed call and seems to genuinely care about it. That's probably why he's considered one of the better umpires in the game. It's not all about calls made versus calls missed, although that's important. It's as much about how you conduct yourself alongside those calls, good or bad. Nobody can expect the umpires to be perfect, although I would argue they should really be better than they are. What we should be able to expect is appropriate conduct, and we just aren't getting it consistently enough. Jim Joyce should be commended for the way he's handled himself this week. A summary of this conduct should be given to all umpires, as there are many of them who don't get what he gets: no matter how good or bad your calls, you can always act properly. This is even more true if you're stinking the joint out on the regular, which is the two-faced problem with many umpires currently.

7 comments:

the gm said...

PF,

This is an excellent post, one of your best in a long time. I know we have both addressed the issue before, but this encapsulates a pretty significant recent trend.

To address your jab, I'll tell you that there's nothing wrong with standing up for your boy. I, however, reserve the right to tell you when you're full of crap.

I'm not going to claim to be an NBA expert, but from what I've read, heard, and seen, I like to think the NBA refereeing is more questionable than MLB umpiring. That's not the point, however, but I figured I'd address them.

Joe West is a good technical umpire. He's good on the field. He might be the Arod of umpiring. Damn good at what he does, but he can't seem to avoid slapping the ball out of players' gloves, yelling "MINE" at fielders, opting out during the World Series, and walking across pitchers' mounds for no apparent reason. West's equivalent to those on-field incidents include the things you mentioned, and his popping off to the media is like kissing himself in the mirror or having an affair with the gap-toothed pop star.

And you're also right about West and many others thinking they're bigger than the game. It's like these guys are out for a fight, trying to prove themselves, and trying to bully the players and managers. Seriously, what's the point of that? It's overall extremely detrimental to the game. Is there some kind of governing body that polices the umpires for this kind of behavior?

Hirschbeck inciting the Alomar incident and the Irabu incident (it's rumored that he used a racial slur and the MF word to Alomar, and that he called Irabu a "Japanese MFer") also, as far as I remember, went completely unpunished. But these guys are out there to start fights for absolutely no reason. There are no consequences for this, and I don't know if it's Richie Garcia or the commissioner's office who would be in charge of this kind of discipline. But something has to happen.

The flip side of the argument about West overturning a call from across the diamond is the following. Back in 1999, as I've mentioned many times before, umpires were too freaking proud to ask for help. Umpires did not overturn calls because they prioritized not showing up their boys over getting the call right. Consequence: the ALCS that year.

I'd take Joe West overturning a call from across the diamond over that ALCS. The culture of umpires not showing up their boys has resulted in terrible calls and damage to the reputation of Tim Tschida, who (as much as I dislike him) is actually not a bad umpire.

I agree with you for the most part, though. The fact that it is West and not someone else is certainly an issue.

One last thing on Joyce--and I only briefly mentioned this on Friday--but it looked like he was zoned on making the BIG call of the game. He was zoned in on making the safe call at the crux of the game. Didn't matter what actually happened; he just wanted to be part of the big dramatic moment. Another symptom of the same overarching problem of umpires getting overly amped up about their jobs instead of being professional.

While the way the umpire conducted himself after the fact is extremely admirable, the very same attitude and culture you refer to in this post, as far as I'm concerned, is why the Jim Joyce incident happened in the first place.

PF said...

correct, you do reserve that right. but please tell me at what point i've said anything regarding this player that came remotely close to being full of crap. let's review the highlights of what i've said since he was traded to the yankees:

- it's a good trade because he offers stability in terms of innings and production at an average or better level at the back of the rotation (which, even if it wasn't happening now - which it is - was more than reasonable analysis at the time i said it).

- he's off to a terrible start but probably isn't this bad considering he had almost 2,500 innings telling us as much entering this season (sure enough, he's got 4 wins and a ~2.50 era across the last month.)

- without question, he's a much better pitcher in the national league than the american league. who isn't, but it is certainly very pronounced with him. with that said, just because he was elite in the NL and not in the AL does not mean he was bad in the AL. in fact, in the AL he never had one season that could be described as worse than "average". i could understand maybe getting on someone who is trying to trump him as a lot better than average in the AL. but that wasn't what i was trying to do. i was really just saying he is what his career AL line says he is, and i think that's a good thing for the back of this rotation.

- after a really bad month, he's had a really good month. it will be interesting to see what unfolds from here.

bandi was kidding when he said it, but i'm saying pretty bland and generic stuff here, especially considering the qualifications i've been putting on it, and it's getting challenged. i feel ridiculous talking about this player as much as we have but it's difficult not to when i'm saying basic stuff and it's getting met with hyperbole to the contrary. it's one thing if you were giving me crap, but the fact that you are trying to tell me i am full of crap is why we are talking about this so much.

Anonymous said...

PF/DV

NBA officials are probably the worst. Or at least they screw up/miss more calls/are more inconsistent than baseball umpires and it seems we really don't hear much about NFL referees. That said, the NBA is much, much harder to officiate. It's a contact sport. The court is probably too small for ten guys that big and that fast and considering the pace of the game, a call could probably be made every five seconds if the officials really wanted to tighten things up.

Baseball is very different. There is rarely any contact between opposing players. It is a much slower game. The majority of the out calls are easy to make (fly balls, swinging strikes, routine ground ball outs) and some of the more difficult calls like home runs (above the line/below the line and fair/foul) are aided by instant replay.

Because the game should be easier to officiate than football or basketball, people are frustrated when umpires screw up. That said, as annoying as a poorly called game is, I can never recall thinking that an umpire was trying to rig a game. Which is something that can't be said for the NBA, anyway. Granted, it's not the greatest consolation, but it's something that we have to take into consideration.

--the Gunn

TimC said...

My feeling on the umpiring situation is that, for the most part, these guys all get around 95% of the calls right. This number is obviously inflated because there are many easy calls to make over the course of a game and I am not including "bad strike zones" (because I feel umpires are still pretty consistent within their own strike zones). It's like you said, umpires that try to become part of the show are the real problem and it makes them look bad when they screw things up. Umpires should not be interviewed, should not be doing calisthenics, and should not move more than one foot to make a call.

I was talking with my younger brother about officiating the other day and we tried to figure out why we never hear anything about the NHL referees. They certainly screw up as much as NFL officials but rarely do they get criticized in the media. Further, I cannot recall one instance of a player or coach really getting on a hockey referee during the game to the point where that player or coach could have been penalized for it. To me, it is a strange phenomenon. Maybe players and coaches have more respect for them because of the athleticism required to officiate a full hockey game?

The NBA situation is a joke. Watching last night's game was another lesson in how to swing a game with the whistle and thankfully the Celtics stayed poised and overcame some tough calls. But basketball is the toughest to officiate and in general the referees should be given some slack.

I think soccer is one sport that should not be as hard to officiate as it is. First, the penalty rule unfairly punishes/rewards teams for violations in the penalty box. They should tweak the rule so fouls in the box result in free kicks from a spot of the offense's choosing, with only violent fouls leading to penalties. Second, most sports have a ratio of about 3-4 players per on-field referee...

NBA: 10 to 3, about 3+ to 1
NHL: 4 to 1 (assuming three officials)
NFL: 22 to 7, about 3+ to 1
MLB: Approx. 2+ to 1, depending on baserunners

...but soccer checks in at a whopping TWENTY-TWO to ONE, plus two generally uninvolved "linesman" and a fourth official that runs the substitutions. Even with those guys factored in, the ratio is about 7 to 1. There is also no replay. The end result of all of this is that a team or two will get bounced from the World Cup for no reason other than the failure of the sport to embrace change. FIFA should do better.

Anonymous said...

Gentleman,

It's clear I'm going to have to lay down the law here on the blog today, which is unfortunate since there are several people on this blog that know a lot more about the law than I do.

TimC,

As usual a good comment by you, however your one mistake is assuming that anyone of us here should even care about soccer. I understand you are probably not the only reader here that likes soccer, and all I can say is that is unfortunate.

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because most of the world is too poor play anything else. I hardly understand why this makes soccer news worthy. Our message to the world should be to add something of value to the global economy so that their GDP per capita will rise to the point where they can afford sports that include equipment and more than 2 points scored per game.

As it is, we are providing coverage for the "World Cup" and celebrating a unified world that is free from violence if only for a short time. Next thing you know we'll be giving captured terrorists cable television in the name of fairness.

Having said all of this, your overall analysis of officiating is spot on. The officiating in Game 2 of the finals last night was absolutely terrible (both ways) and the Celtics were lucky to escape with a win. But escape they did and if Garnett can stop channeling his inner jon bandi and look like an athlete out there the celtics should have a chance to make a series out of it.

Speaking of channeling your inner Jon Bandi, many of you have made valiant attempts to piss off Pat but I'm here to tell you that doing that effectively is a marathon and not a sprint. Pat is generally a reasonable and decent person, which means that making him mad is a process, not an event.

If our goal is to push pat over the edge - which I think we would all like to see - we are going to need a strategy. Baseless accusations are only the beginning. Here are some other things that we should agree to implement immediately:

1) From now on, we need to refer to Vazquez as "Pat's boy."

Forget the fact that he's never expressed any affinity for Vazquez, and is only reporting the facts about his recent improvement. We should imply at every turn that Pat likes Vazquez even more than Jeter, which is obviously quite a bit.

2) We need to continue to accuse Pat of saying things that he didn't actually say.

For example, if Pat begins a post by saying "Now I'm not saying that Vazquez is an All-Star," then the first that we write in our comments under the blog should be "Pat, I know Vazquez is your boy, but it's ridiculous to say that he's an all star."

3) The majority of our unbased attacks should occur between 6pm and 8pm on Wednesday evening. As Pat will realize when he enters the real world, Wednesday is hump day, and as such is the longest most draining day. Giving him unwarranted grief at the end of a long work day will take its toll over time.

4) We should pay Alan Oz to write in to this blog every few weeks and compare Pat to Dustin Pedroia. This will not be easy to do, since this will involve convincing Al to spend less time avoiding his friends when they come up to Maine to visit. But that's precisely why we would pay him to do it.

5) GM, you simply must ramp up the Mark Teixeira attacks. Sure he was MVP last year, but look at him this year. They paid him all that money for one year? Not a good investment.

Anonymous said...

Bandi

All that stuff you wrote about soccer is some of the best that has ever been written on this blog.

Glad to have you back to being your old self.

--the Gunn

TimC said...

Hey Bandi,

http://www.boston.com/sports/soccer/blog/2010/06/fenway_park_to.html