Monday, October 24, 2005

I forgot to mention

that Bahrain beat Uzbekistan. 1-1 in Tashkent, scoreless in Manama, so Bahrain advances on the strength of more away goals.

I'm betting Uzbekistan is regretting their appeal of a 1-0 victory now.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Fox crew

Okay--so home plate umpire missed the call tonight. The ball went off of Jermaine Dye's bat, not his arm, and he should not have been awarded first base.

But Fox--gimme a break! That wasn't a major factor in setting up the Paul Konerko home run. There's no guarantee that Dan Wheeler doesn't allow Dye to reach on the very next pitch anyway.

I'm fine with you pointing out the error. But showing the HPB call at least a dozen times compared to showing Konerko's GRAND SLAM only four or five? Where the hell are your priorities? And what's the relevance of digging up the completely irrelevant Doug Eddings business again?

At some point, Fox has decided that this postseason is about umpires missing calls, and they're doing everything they can to make that storyline primary...even when they don't have all the facts (see Eddings) or when it's really not that crucial to the game (see Dye).

Please stop, Fox. Don't continue to make yourselves a joke.

UPDATE: Funny. Chris Burke's slide under Pierzynski in the top of the 9th was an awesome "safe" call by Nelson. Very close. When I saw it live, the throw had him beat, and I called "out." The replay showed Nelson got a bang-bang play right. Tim McCarver said "Great slide by Burke!" but gave nary a nod to Nelson's call. Not that I expect a lot of love, but crap, let's realize our bias and give a little balance, okay?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Game log: 10/15/2005

I had two games today--a high school summer league. It was my first time on the court since April. On the whole, I'm afraid it showed physically--I'm out of shape. By the end of the second game, I had turned a red color that I shouldn't turn. Time to get to the gym--I have about 6 weeks to improve my conditioning. I HATE the gym, and I HATE running, but I'll do what I've got to do.

The games were mostly uneventful. The second game was notable for a timer who was a massive butthead. He was, it appeared, a parent for the green team. I walked up to him before the game and introduced myself.

"Hey, I'm Blog."
Yo! What up, homie?
[thinking this is a major moron--he was responding to my greeting with sarcasm--but maintaining politeness] "Tell me who you are."
I'm Johnny. I'm the guy who's gonna be yelling at you all day.
[thinking this guy had better not give me any trouble from the table or he'll go home]: "Why are you going to do that?"
To get some of the calls to go my way.
"It doesn't work."

Does this guy introduce himself to everybody saying he's going to verbally abuse them? What an idiot. But there were no problems that game.

Things to work on:

GAME ONE: Foul count was uneven in the second half. Not much I could do about it, really--couldn't find any "coach pacification fouls." I'm not a big fan of the Coach Pacification Foul, but it's something I've been taught, and it's fairly routine. Occasionally you have to toot a borderline one for game management purposes. As long as it really exists, you're fine.

Thank goodness the players were as tired as I was in the second half. That made a huge difference.

GAME TWO: I'm pleased with that one. There were several ugly rebound fouls early. Why do so many players believe that boxing out entails knocking your opponent backwards several feet? And why do players who are boxed out believe they can push their opponents in the back? I called four of these in the first quarter--all on white. I called none in the second half, because they weren't there. I love it when the players learn.

I really mucked up a foul on white in the second half. #15 drove for an uncontested layup. She missed. Blue got the rebound, and I saw #15 run back in from the baseline. I could tell she was upset, and was ready to ding her for a foul--she was flailing about wildly in frustration. She whipped her arms in, and I went up for the foul call...but dammit, I anticipated rather than saw. As wild and ugly as her movements her, and although I give myself a pat on the back for seeing beyond the movements to the mind of the player, I called what I thought might happen instead of what actually happened. I just need to wait a half-a-beat more before blowing that whistle.

One other thing to work on: I have a TERRIBLE habit of nodding or shaking my head when I think a block was clean or a kid didn't travel or whatever. That's awful because if my partner has his/her eyes out of his/her area (and yes, it happens sometimes) and calls the foul, I've sold him/her down the river. I can't do that. I MUST get rid of this bad habit.

Things I did well: Management, cleaned up post play, had a sense of where the game was at all times

Things I need to work on: Conditioning, nodding, quick call for nonexistent anticipated foul.

NEXT UP: No games currently scheduled. I may try to get in a couple more games in early November, but I'm reasonably with it right now, so I may wait until scrimmages start in mid-to-late November.

Off-season ball

Today I will officiate for the first time in about 6 months. Some off-season rec ball. Not sure of the age.

I normally don't like doing off-season rec ball. Officials sometimes don't do the regular switching on fouls, etc. that they do during the season. Both players and officials can get sloppy, and I never feel comfortable going to my partner and saying "Hey, let's do this like it's a high school game." But I want to see what kind of shape I'm in, so I'll go off to do a pair of games.

Back in February, I gave myself four areas I want to improve on for the upcoming season. I've just looked back at them, and three of them don't really apply to today. So I'll be working on keeping my eyes in my area. And seeing what kind of shape I'm in. It might be time to spend a few bucks on a personal trainer and tell him/her: "get me in shape for the season."

So later today, this site will have its first game entry. I plan on using this as my game log/journal to keep track of how things are going. I hope it's interesting enough that others want to read it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Doug Eddings Flap

Do we need evidence to support my contention that we need more talk, not less, from officials when the situation warrants it?

Take the controversy surrounding Doug Eddings' call of a trapped third strike in tonight's White Sox/Angels game two.

My take on the call? Too hard to tell. I thought it was caught for the first several replays, but then Fox showed us a major close-up that certainly made it appear that the ball bounced up into Josh Paul's glove at the last possible nanosecond. Since the "strike three" mechanic and the "out" mechanic are identical, the Angels blew it by thinking a strike was an out.

But that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing because sportswriters showed they need a refereeing specialist on hand in the studio.

First off, Harold Reynolds, Karl Ravech, Tim McCarver, and Joe Buck all indicated at least once that "It sure looks like Eddings is calling him out." If only there had been a retired umpire on staff--even just sitting at home for them to call and put his voice on the air--to point out that a raised fist is also the strike three mechanic. All four of those commentators clouded rather than clarified the issue.

But several of the questions in the press conference with Eddings, crew chief Jerry Crawford, and umpire supervisor Rich Rieker had to deal with in their press conference were astonishingly stupid.

First, even after being corrected, more than one questioner insisted that the umpires said that Paul "dropped" the third strike. Nobody ever said that. The ruling was a "trap." That's a critical distinction.

Second, let me quote this question verbatim. It shows that you don't have to know the rules of baseball to be a baseball writer.

"Pierzynski after he swung, it seemed like he went to the other batter's box, and took at least a split-second delay. If a batter delays running to first base, is he normally called out in those situations? Or do they have a delay time where they can run? Because he didn't seem to run immediately after he finished his swing. It seemed like there was a pause. Is there a rule where if you don't run immediately you're out, and did that come into play here at all?"

My instinct is to call this a stupid question and to call this writer names. And I did--I yelled profanities at my screen. But on reflection, I need to learn from Eddings, Crawford, and Rieker here and not yell at him. We don't attack the ignorant, we educate them. That's what Rieker did--he told him the rule, which is that a batter is not out--and has the right to run--until he gets to the top step of the dugout.

So, winners and losers from this:

Media winner: John Kruk. He was tempered in the immediate aftermath, saying that "We don't have the verbal call, so we don't know if Eddings called the batter out." Excellent. It doesn't make up for the many others who, like Mike Scoscia, incorrectly said "Look at the fist! He called him out!" But he was the only commentator tonight who demonstrated more than a fan's grasp on umpires, what they do, and how they work.

But the big winners were the umpires for their grace and equanimity in the press conference. I can't tell whether they got their call right or wrong. It's really a matter of millimeters, and depends on the angle--my instinct remains that the ball didn't hit the ground, but I'm not sure. But even when you factor in my biased perspective, it is obvious that these guys are outstanding professionals who were able to explain a bizarre situation to a mostly-clueless media. Eddings was completely unflappable in what will surely be the most difficult night of his career. I've already seen Karl Ravech compare him to Don Denkinger (ridiculous) and ESPN has put his biography on the screen. In spite of this firestorm, he remained calm--way calmer than I would have been. And his crew chief and his supervisor had his back with calm, rules-based explanations.

In short, they were an advertisement to put more ex-officials on sports television staffs...or at the very least, on call.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The gag rule

Mike Carey's comments after the controversial Baltimore/Detroit game were very helpful. He gave his reasons for some of the calls he and his crew made in the heat of battle: an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a player giving an obscene gesture to the crowd, the ejection of a player for bumping him, etc.

Why aren't officials at the highest level allowed to talk more often?

I feel like it helps the game, simply because the officials frequently have it right or are enforcing a misunderstood (or even unknown) rule. Even when the officials get it wrong, it might help an official to say "I got this one wrong. I was screened, I feel bad, and it won't happen again."

Further, I'd like to see networks hire recently-retired officials to serve as special color commentators to explain the game from the officials' point of view, and to provide a human face for officials.

Don't get me wrong--I think this only should be done at the pro and big-college levels. I think the gag rule at the high school level, where I work, is a good idea. I have a big mouth and might well say something that could be misinterpreted into a microphone. Plus, I honestly don't want crazy parents to know my name.

But at the top level, I think officials talking about officiating is good for everybody. Give them a mike and put them on TV.

Reacting to Ravens/Lions officiating flap

Here's the story.

I haven't seen the game, so I won't get into any of the individual calls. I have two reactions from a general officiating standpoint:

First, Mike Carey, the official, ejected Terrell Suggs because, according to Carey, "he bumped me with malice in his heart." I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, we can't enforce what's in players' hearts, so I feel like Carey could simply have said "he bumped me." That's enough reason for an ejection, right? But then again, we do have to examine intent. The malice is important, and any official with fingers on the pulse of the game can reasonably say whether a player is out to get you or not. That makes a difference.

Second, Larry Lage, the writer for AP, wrote that the officials "seemed quick to flag the visitors." That feels like a bit of a judgement call for the game recap. Doesn't that belong in a column? That looks like he's questioning the officials' integrity, and that's not acceptable, even if it's not intentional.

Third, how is it that Ravens' coach Brian Billick seems like the only voice of reason? As frustrated as I'm sure he was, he made no incendiary comments and remarked that his team lost its cool--an angle that Lage didn't go into much.

Fourth--Carey speaking is helpful--and I'll blog about that separately.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bahrain/Uzbekistan update

Uzbekistan's challenge--the one I mentioned earlier--has backfired. Today's redo was a 1-1 draw. It'll all come down to Wednesday's second leg in Bahrain.

It's worth noting that the two legs are being officiated by European officials rather than Asian ones. Fairly or unfairly, European refs have a reputation as the best in the world. Usually games are officiated by officials from their own region, but it looks like FIFA didn't want to take any chances for any other mistakes, so Massimo Busacca of Switzerland officiated today. England's Graham Poll has Wednesday's leg.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rick Reilly rips ref

In this article, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated lays into a high school football crew from Ohio for a decision to prevent a nose guard with no legs from playing in a game. The officials' reason: the rule book says that all players must wear shoes, knee pads, and thigh pads. (It's short...probably worth reading the whole thing.)

I disagree with the officials' decision. However, they are not solely to blame for this sad situation.

After the game, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, according to Reilly, said the crew made a mistake and sent the player a letter declaring him eligible. Too late! OHSAA should have seen this coming and sent the letter at the start of the year. If that letter is on the sideline from the word go, the player doesn't have to go through this humiliating experience. Analogous situation: In basketball, players are not allowed to wear anything on their heads--unless there is a religious reason. A Muslim (for example) player can play, provided there is a letter of approval from the state association at the ready. They could have done the same in this situation.

The officials' associtation is also at fault here. Any unusual situation outside the purview of the rulebook needs to be talked over in association meetings. This can't be the kid's first season playing football. At the start of every year, take thirty seconds to say it to everyone: "There's a kid at Colonel White High with no legs. He's cleared to play by his doctor and OHSAA. Be ready." That also would have nipped the situation in the bud, and saved the student from this terrible experience.

Let's not forget Colonel White High, who also shares the blame for this incident. The student had clearance from his doctor to play. Even if they don't have a letter from OHSAA, they could at least have had the player's medical clearance letter on the sideline. With that, the officials wouldn't have been able to cite safety as a reason to bench him. The school could have forseen the situation as well.

So there were at least three groups who could have kept the officiating crew from making its blunder. Don't get me wrong: it was a blunder. The spirit of the rule is to protect players. No player--the nose guard or his opponents--is endangered by the nose guard playing without shoes, knee pads, or thigh pads.

Take the closest thing to an analogous situation I can find in basketball. If I show up to the gym and there's a player with an artificial leg, and I believe that artificial leg poses a danger to the other players who might be diving for a loose ball, the kid sits. Yes, it would break her heart, but in this case, the spirit of the rules must carry the day. There is a rule in place to protect players against (for instance) hard knee braces. I'd apply it to artificial limbs as well. If one kid gashes her head open on that leg, I've failed in my job and am likely facing a lawsuit (unless there's a letter from the state association declaring her eligible--in which case, that's the rule I enforce and she plays). On the other hand if a player without legs wants to play basketball, she's not a danger to anyone on the court, so I'll let her play without shoes. The spirit of the rule is upheld in that case.

So, while Reilly's criticism of the officials is warranted, I do wish he'd pointed that the crew's was the last in a long, sad series of failures that led to a good kid being embarrassed.

Ed Hochuli

What a stud. Calling a penalty in Spanish! I wish he'd done the whole game that way. I like the sense of the official making announcements to the live audience first, the TV audience second.

Next step: teaching NFL Europe refs German.

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