Harold Reynolds is a poor mind reader.

And yet he tries to read minds at the 2:10 mark of  this clip.  The program is MLB Network’s Hot Stove. The topic is the Baltimore Orioles’  success after Buck Showalter took over last season.  Reynolds believes that umpiring is part of that success:

I think also a respect came with that [Showalter’s hiring] around the league, and with the umpires.  We’ve all been on teams that have lost.  And when you’re the losing team, you don’t get the break.  They can say whatever they want about all the tests and everything else that are out there, but you don’t get that close call.  I’m sorry.  So when that gap changes or that manager stands up for you, all of the sudden that ball on the black, they go “hmmm… maybe it’s a ball–we’ll play a little bit longer.”  That changes everything and that changes the mindset and the confidence of the player.  And I think Buck brought that to the team.

Let’s start with my favorite part of the quote, which is the “They can say whatever they want about all the tests.”  Reynolds’ accusations that umpires have it in for losing teams is completely devoid of  any evidence, of course–but what I like about this is that he actually admits that this is the case and that the evidence (I assume he’s referring to QuesTec) would probably go against him.  No matter–he’s still states this unbacked story as a truth, and even give a monologue of an umpire’s thoughts.   In the process, he puts his weight behind another officiating myth when he argues that part of the reason the Orioles began winning is due to umpires changing calls due to pressure from a respected manager.

I’m not sure whether to demonstrate how Reynolds is guilty of a post hoc fallacy or a victim of confirmation bias, because the stench of each is so powerful here.  So I’ll just let it be and say that Reynolds’ admission that “I know that there’s tangible evidence against me, and no tangible evidence on my side, but I still am going to opine loudly about how I’m right” is a perfect example of what’s wrong with both thinking and discourse in our country.  Loud certainty beats evidence–and people like Reynolds don’t even feel it is necessary to bring evidence to the table.

The thing that most frosts me is that this crap flows all the way downhill to my games.  My assignor received a pretty ugly letter from a parent of a winless team two years back who indicated that refs were completely out to get her team.  Her evidence:  a lengthy story of my crew and eye turning a blind eye to horrific violence in my game.  Her story was not even hyperbole, but flat-out fiction.  But that “evidence” was, in her mind,  enough to show that the refs were against the losing team.  In short, without any real-world evidence, she accused my fellow officials and me of bias.

There is almost no difference between this illogical accusation and Harold Reynolds’ words.  Nevertheless, there he is, using his public position to spread his unbacked, unsupported (and, indeed, unsupportable) views about what umpires and referees are thinking, even reproducing the words inside the umpire’s head.  This, alas, will more than likely play into sports fans’ own confirmation biases, thus making  these (admittedly!) unbacked fictions into fossilized facts in the minds of those who listen uncritically.

It sure would be nice if theMLB Network had its own version of Mike Pereira to keep keep this kind of thing in check.  Anybody got Bruce Froemming on speed dial?

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About Paul Hamann
I am a basketball referee in Washington State, working mostly high school games.

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