The first round of the baseball playoffs has brought more controversy with regard to officiating. Ron Gardenhire of the Twins and Joe Maddon of the Rays became the first managers to be thrown out of playoff games on the same day in MLB history. (For the record, I think that this is partially due to the fact that most umpires recognize that the playoffs are the playoffs, and they probably don’t have as quick of a hook on guys.) We’ve all seen the plays that resulted in the ejections, so they’re not really worth re-hashing. (Although I will say that I disagreed with Joe Maddon about the check swing; I felt the guy checked it in time, however it was certainly close and worth questioning.) However this also illustrates the fact that in the past year (in my opinion) officiating has gone downhill.
There were various times this past season where I felt that the other team got the benefit of the doubt against the Orioles. There were even times when replays backed up the fact that the umpires made a bad call in the favor of other teams. I can accept that bad calls will happen; the issue I have is when a league takes a stance such as what MLB has said in the past in that instant replay isn’t an option. (I personally believe that come opening day 2011 we’ll have an instant replay system in MLB.) I like how college football reviews it’s plays with the “eye-in-the-sky” system. Every play is reviewed, and if the official in the box sees something he doesn’t like, he buzzes down to the ref and they look at it again. That’s how baseball should do it. I recognize that you can’t review balls and strikes, however anything on the base paths or in the field of play should be fair game. I have to assume that game officials have a certain amount of pride as well, and that they don’t want to blow the calls. So why not give them a tool to use so that they can get the calls right?
And I’m not just picking on umpires in baseball here; I think that officiating across the board in all sports has deteriorated. This past summer FIFA came under immense scrutiny for how their officials called World Cup matches. Team USA almost got cheated out of advancing to the second round due to a horrible call involving a goal in a game. And things seem to almost get worse in the NFL on a weekly basis. We all know that there’s holding on every play, however the fact is that some teams get called for things, and some don’t. I often wonder if reputation doesn’t play into some of that as well. The Oakland Raiders have long been thought of as one of the dirtiest teams in the NFL. So do the refs not read the newspapers and watch television over the course of the week? They know that based on history and the present; so are they looking for things more so than they would with other teams. (For the record, I’m not defending the Raiders because I hate them, but I’m just raising a question.)
With that said, I also have to question if the Ravens aren’t over-scrutinized a bit. The Ravens seem to collect their fair share of flags for late hits and roughing the passer; so now I’ve noticed that if a guy is dancing along the sidelines and someone sneezes on him they’re throwing flags on the Ravens. Consequently if a guy like Peyton Manning grounds the football and he’s near the tackle box, a ref might reason that he had to have been out of the tackle box.
Overall, I recognize that officiating is a thankless job. I go to a lot of sporting events over the course of the year, and I always boo the refs or umps when they come out. It’s kind of like a tradition to me, although I don’t condone what Cleveland fans did by throwing beer bottles on the refs years back. Whenever there’s a bad call that affects a game people always try to play it off by saying, “…hey, it’s just a game.” Yeah, it is just a game; however in these games people get cut and fired based on wins and losses. That one blown call might push a coach over the edge of losing his job, or a player in terms of getting cut. I know that there’s accountability on the part of the officials for the calls that they blow, however it’s not done publically. When a coach gets fired it’s very public. Ultimately in a tough economy, companies are expecting more out of their employees. I wish that we could ask for more out of the zebras and the blues as well.