The Bill Leavy apology kerfuffle

Part Three of “Stuff I wanted to blog about this summer, but didn’t because this blog was in transition.”

I defended Bill Leavy and his crew.  Passionately.

Other referees have defended him as well.

Still, Bill Leavy apologized to the Seahawks last week for what he felt were two rough fourth-quarter calls.  One of them was an illegal block call against Matt Hasselbeck that everyone knew was wrong from the get go.  I recall Leavy admitting he missed that one a few years ago in Referee Magazine.

The second one, I suppose, was the holding call, which, when you watch the play at full speed, was borderline.

Anyway, these calls have clearly been bugging Leavy for years, and he needed to talk about them.  Fine by me.

On his blog, Mike Pereira had a post (since removed) indicating that Leavy was too hard on himself.  I tend to agree.

But what bothers me most is the logically fallacious conclusion that Seahawks fans have reached…that Pereira’s apology reaches to ALL of the calls they don’t like in the game, and that they’ve been vindicated.

Bullcrap.

Darrell Jackson still pushed off, and the pushoff created an advantage that resulted in a touchdown–therefore,the play had to be called.  Leavy didn’t apologize for that.  Ben Roethlisberger’s TD call was still so bloody close that either call would have been fine by me and not overturnable.

If either (or both) of these calls had gone against Pittsburgh, it would be they, and not Seattle, insisting they were robbed.

I’m fine with Leavy apologizing.  I’ve done it once.  I felt bad about how a technical in this game went down.  I didn’t get a good look at a player-control foul call that caused the coach to come unglued, and because of the way the switch worked out on the court, I didn’t get a chance to talk to the coach until he’d been whacked by one of my partners.  I saw him in the stands before the next game of his team that I worked, sat next to him, and said I felt bad about how it all worked out.  He said it was all fine, remarking that his team lost by 40 and that we refs get a lot more right than wrong.

But Seahawks fans are concluding that Leavy’s apology is proof that the whole game was screwed up.  That’s flat-out not true.  It’s all on videotape.

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Little League World Series using replay

Just heard about it last night, and confirmed it here.

My qualms about the big-time-ification of kid sports are actually overrun by one idea here:  from Little League to Major Leagues, the main idea of an official is to get it right.  At the local field on Saturday morning, there won’t be the technology to allow that.  But if there is, why not use it?  ESPN/ABC is broadcasting the games anyway (if they have to skip a broadcast due to rain delays, they won’t use replay).  Much to my surprise, I think I support this.

I like one part of the rule better than the other.

The part I like is that each manager is permitted one unsuccessful challenge in the first six innings, and then another unsuccessful challenge in extra innings.  Get a challenge right?  You get another–in perpetuity.  Get it wrong?  No more challenges.  This puts the onus on managers to be extra sure they’ve got a good challenge before making said challenge.  In Little League, where I assume there’s no TV in their dugouts and no clubhouses to speak of, they won’t have the benefit of seeing a quick replay before the next pitch, either, so there’s another layer of difficulty.

The part I dislike is the umpire-initiated replay check.  If the umpiring crew meets and cannot agree on a call, they can agree to check the replay.

My worry about that is that it might lead umpires to be too cautious and say “well, as long as we have replay at our disposal, we’d better give it a look.”  I think umpires would be better off getting the information and making a decision than they would be getting the information and then NOT making a decision.  Again, I’d rather put the onus on the managers.

But the first part–the one manager’s unsuccessful challenge per game…there is absolutely NO REASON why that can’t be used in MLB for everything except balls and strikes.

It’s bizarre to think of Little League blazing a trail for MLB to follow, but here it is.

Mike Pereira in Fox Studios

I have always wanted this to happen, and I just found out it has.

Former head of NFL  officiating Mike Pereira is going to be working for Fox.  He’ll be in their studio providing rules analysis as games warrant it.

This will be the best thing ever to happen to officials’ perception in public, and I have no idea why it took so long.  It won’t all be shangri-la, but it will now be better.  Just wait and watch.

He even has a blog…which makes us colleagues.

Worst anti-umpire tirade ever?

Golden Baseball League umpire Billy Van Raaphorst was the target.  Edmonton Capitals manager Brent Bowers was the horrible, angry, sad instigator.

Jason Whitlock does a good job telling about it here.  No need to reproduce what Bowers said in his on-field tirade, except that it contains about a billion F-bombs–both garden-variety F-bombs and gay-epithet F-bombs.  Bowers flexed his muscles in a “gun show,” mocking Van Raaphorst.  Most incredibly, Bowers actually bent over and grabbed his ankles as he yelled “Is this how you like it, you f-ing [expletive]?”

The GBL’s original response?  A two-day suspension.  But GBL umpires all threatened to not take the field due to the light punishment of Bowers, so it was upped to a season-long suspension, and the Capitals subsequently fired Bowers and required all the rest of their employees to undergo sensitivity training.

A couple of thoughts.

1.  Van Raaphorst said it was all he could to to keep from hitting Bowers.  He could have really hurt Bowers too–Van Raaphorst played center at San Diego State.  But he showed immeasurable restraint in not responding.  I’ll try to remember that next time a coach or parent gives me trouble and I’m tempted to respond negatively.  I’ll never hear anything as bad as this, and if Van Raaphorst can endure it stoically, so can I.

2.  Major, major props to the GBL umpires, who responded heroically.  There’s some history to umpires threatening wildcat strikes due to ridiculously lenient punishments for abusive players and coaches.  I dimly recall an NHL playoff game with replacement officials called in at the last minute (a quick internet search confirms this with a Sports Illustrated article; it happened in 1988), and MLB umpires briefly threatened to walk out on playoff games in the wake of the 1996 Roberto Alomar spitting incident until a district court judge said they’d be in violation of the CBA.  But the GBL umpires actually forced their league into a change.  It’s a good thing, too–if they hadn’t, they’d have been legitimate targets for literally any kind of verbal abuse from all fronts.

3.  Still, as the title shows here, I’ve been thinking:  is this the worst verbal tirade against an official in pro sports history?  (I’ll set aside physical assaults for now.)

I’d imagine early African-American officiating pioneers like Emmett Ashford, Burl Toler, and Jackie White (especially Ashford, due to the nature of baseball versus the other sports) all had to put up with horrendous N-bombs.  Pam Postema put up with some awful garbage as she umpired the minor leagues (a frying pan on home plate?  really?), and I’m sure she heard some unbearable language as well.  Worse, she and some other female umpiring pioneers say they didn’t always have the support of their partners.

But as far as an individual tirade, I can’t come up with anything worse than this one.  I can’t imagine how I would have responded if I’d been in the stands, let alone been Van Raaphorst.  Kudos to everyone except Bowers, for not getting it (among other things he says in his apology that “my mom works with a lot of gay hairdressers and I joke around with those guys all the time”), and the league, for getting it too late.

The World Cup/Eric Wynalda is still a raving nut

Part two of “Stuff I meant to blog about this summer, but didn’t because this blog was in transition.”

Cast your mind back four years to the World Cup in 2006.  You might recall there was actually more officiating controversy then than in 2010.  I think that there will be controversy more or less every tournament because, quite simply, soccer is the most difficult game to officiate.  Why they believe one official, with some limited help from two assistants, can keep track of 22 bodies on such a massive pitch is beyond me.  But that’s a different post for a different day.

Instead, let’s go back to ’06.  The US suffered two red cards in their first-round match against Italy.  Although most of the world’s English-speaking media seemed to think the red cards were reasonable (as I discussed in my post at the time), Eric Wynalda went absolutely bonkers, taking ABC’s coverage with him.  He wound up shouting the worst anti-ref diatribe I’ve ever heard from a sportscaster:

“There are two kinds of referees: bad ones and worse ones…Players win games, coaches lose them, and referees ruin them.”

Incredibly, rather than say why he disagreed with the official’s call, Wynalda instead stated that all officials--in every sport at every level!--are terrible.  In fact, it’s our JOB simply to eff up any game, from Little League on up, and to heap misfortune on the poor, innocent players who merely want to win and lose with honesty and dignity.  Again–this is what he said about ALL officials.

You know, I couldn’t help but take that personally.

So when the US had the potential game-winning goal disallowed against Slovenia on  a call that replays didn’t seem to show (I, like the sportscasters, didn’t see it, and I haven’t seen a defense of the call from literally anyone), I braced for a similar attack.

Much to my pleasant surprise, Alexi Lalas, Wynalda’s replacement this year, was much more reasonable.  I don’t have a quote handy, but I do remember him saying something the next day to the effect of “I’ve calmed down now, and I’ve looked at the replay at least a hundred times, and I still don’t see a foul.”

To me, that’s reasonable commentary.  That’s Lalas doing his job, and it’s the job of FIFA to step up and explain the call if they can.  They didn’t.

Anyway, only when I saw Lalas’ careful commentary did I have a joyous realization:  Wynalda had lost his ABC gig!  I grinned a little grin.  It’s wonderful that he’s gone.

But where did he end up?

I found him commentating for Yahoo Sports, submitting videos from what appears to be a 14-year-old boy’s bedroom.  I found him complaining that the official needs to be investigated for favoritism.  If you look closely, you might see Wynalda’s hair mussed up from his tinfoil hat.  Leave it to Wynalda to go nuts with a conspiracy theory.

My wife’s 2006 assessment of him still stands these four years later.

Joyce and Galarraga

Part one of “stuff I wanted to blog about this summer, but was busy with this blog’s transition”:

I was watching it live.

MLB Network just happened to be on in the background in my house, and they announced Galarraga had a perfect game through 7 innings.  I started watching.  My wife joined for the ninth inning.  One out, two out, and then…well, you remember.

All I said, repeatedly, was this:  “I hope he didn’t blow the call.  I hope he didn’t blow the call…”

Then, the replay.  As everyone now knows, Jim Joyce blew the call.

As always in situations like this, my heart went out to Joyce, but surprisingly, my lasting image from the game will be Galarraga’s immediate response.  That grin will be a part of baseball history.  That face that at the very moment he lost immortality through no fault of his own, said “Wow.  Unbelievable, but what can you do?”

So, because of the once-every-two-hundred-years nature of this blown call (seriously, can it get any worse than this as far as consequences go?), I girded up my loins for horrendous backlash. I prepared for the worst anti-officiating backlash in world history.

It never happened, and the reason it never happened is because every single one of the principals responded 100% perfectly.

Let’s start with Joyce.  We can’t overemphasize how much capital he had built up through his decades of good work, and how much it helped him in this situation.  Curt Schilling talks about Joyce’s wonderful career in an ESPN.com article.  I highly doubt that he would have similarly stepped up for many of Joyce’s fellow umpires.

And Joyce’s decision to be direct and make no excuses–“this was a history-making call, and I kicked the shit out of it”–nipped just about any potential problems in the bud.  It’s hard to beat up on a guy who is already violently beating up on himself.

Additionally, although I do believe that Joyce feels 100% as bad as Galarraga does (analogy: would you rather injure yourself in a car accident that was your fault, or injure someone else?), he correctly put the focus where it belonged:  on the wronged parties.  I cannot imagine how it must have felt to go into that clubhouse right after discovering his horrible mistake, just minutes after all hell nearly broke loose on the diamond because of the justifiably upset Tigers’ club.  But he knew it had to be done–both face to face and in the media–and he did it.  I’m not sure everyone has the fortitude to do that.

I cannot believe that Galarraga gave Joyce a hug in that clubhouse.  If I were in Galarraga’s shoes, I’m not sure I would have.  That hug, in and of itself, might make Armando Galarraga one of my favorite people in baseball history.

Then, the Tigers managed to find just the right level of theater to make it right.  Jim Leyland defended Joyce in the extreme, and then sent out Galarraga to deliver the lineup card to home plate umpire Joyce the next day.  Incredibly, there were some cheers–CHEERS!–for Joyce as he came out to do the game (a game which MLB gave him the option of skipping, but I think any official would want to jump right back in the saddle).  How is that possible?  It’s completely antithetical to everything that’s ever happened in umpire/player relations.  Joyce teared up as he heard the cheers and when Galarraga came out.

Then–to top it all off–all of the Tigers’ starters stopped to give Joyce an encouraging smack on the chest protector as they stepped onto the field.

All of the above happened in about 15 hours, just as I was flinching for horrible anti-ref backlash.  What could have been the worst moment in ref history turned into the best, and I was practically dizzy, at a loss to figure out what it all meant.

A non-officiating friend of mine, Joe Murphy, suggested that this was the meaning of the whole affair:

“I don’t know, I seem to fail publicly (although not, thank God, on TV) quite a lot. And frankly, I’m failed a lot too.

Seems like the message of this moment is to fail a lot more like Joyce, and deal with those who fail you a lot more like the Tigers.”

That’s beautifully put.  While nobody in their right mind would want to have their name in the national consciousness in the phrase “Remember:  try to fail just like _____ did,” in a way, since we are all human and all fail, it’s perhaps the most beautiful tribute anyone can have said of them.

Net result:  arguably the most beautiful, graceful, humane moment in sports history…exactly where one wouldn’t expect it.  I hope it starts a trend.

Just finished my first password-protected post

If you want the password, give me an email.  Firstnamelastname at gmail…you can get my name below.  All I ask is that you tell me your first and last name, where you live, and what level you officiate (or, barring that, why you want to be able to read the game logs).  Only game logs and other personal info I don’t want in the public view will be password protected.