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.


At 6:23 AM, Blogger lemming said...

Hmm. Whatever happened to the possibility that refs are 1) human 2) more experienced at refing (reffing?) than television commentators and 3) at least in theory unbiased?

I think the important part about #3 is that once you start assuming refs are all biased and out to get the other team, coach, etc. (Valentine and Bobby Knight, anyone?) the whole point to having a ref at all becomes moot.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

Good points, Ms. Lemming.

Having retired refs around for commentators to talk to will lessen the notion that the guys in the booth know the rules enough to criticize. It will only work if the retired official is willing to say when his/her colleague got it wrong (and that's something we in the fraternity are loath to do). But Eddings' missed call (if it was missed) was so compounded by multiple misunderstandings of rules and mechanics that I feel the need to pull the gag rule more than ever.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...

To clarify--the "misunderstandings" above are misunderstandings by commentators, not by Eddings and his crew.

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Hugh said...

Two points that occurred to me:

(1) Why do two plate events with very different outcomes (called third strike and "yer out") start, apparently, exactly the same way?

(2) Why are home plate umpires allowed to have their own "style" when those styles cause confusion?

At 8:45 AM, Blogger John B. said...

I kind of blogged on this a bit, but I had three main thoughts:

1) The Angel catcher should have tagged Pierzynski, regardless of the call by the ump. Catchers are taught from Little League that if a taken 3rd strike or dropped third strike is even remotely close, tag the batter 'just in case'. I see it done all of the time in the Majors...usually non-chalantly as the camera is cutting away to commercial.

2) The ump was never definitive in his decision...I frankly think that his decision was ultimately influenced by the actual action of Pierzynski running to 1st. Only then did the ump 'rethink' the call and award Pski 1st base. As you know, the ump's first responsibility is to keep control of the call / decision /game , regardless of whether he blew the call or not.

3) The ump's original motion looked like a call of 'strike 3' and then 'out' to me. But better to be safe than sorry as a ball player, especially when the call is not clear. Also, why not use replay to decide whether the ball was in the dirt in the first place? I never saw any dirt even stirred up in the looked like a clean catch to me.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger lemming said...

I just want the CFP to note, for the record, that I actually know the name of a ref other than TRP. I may be a clueless academic who has yet to watch all of a televised sporting event in 2005, but I know a few things.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Blogging Ref said...


I do not believe that Eddings' decision was influenced by Pierzynski running. If he'd thought Pierzynski was out, he would have said "you're out," and Pierzynski would not have run. That's all there is to it.


It's not the style that causes the confusion. It's the fact that "strike" and "out" signals are identical...a raised fist for each. This is the only situation where it makes any difference. Maybe there needs to be a new "Strike three, but not out yet" mechanic--but the fact that it's not yet in existence isn't Eddings' fault. He did his job.


Who's TRP?


At 11:44 AM, Blogger lemming said...

Hey, I'm a trained English major, don't ask me these identity questions!


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