Thursday, April 27, 2006

They didn't stay quiet.

According to this lengthy and often ugly exchange on an officiating board (don't bother reading the whole thing...both sides come off looking pretty bad), the striking minor league umps--who, as you should know, I support--did what I told them not to do. At some point this morning, according to a poster in the aforementioned forum, a striking crew chief for the International League posted this statement on the AMLU's website:

The incident which occurred between Delmon Young and replacement umpire, [I'm deleting his name, which the AMLU statement used...I passionately disagree with the guy's choice to scab, but don't want him to get hurt], is unfortunate to say the least. In most of my dealings with Delmon in the past he has handled himself in a respectful, professional manner. I think the rest of the regular International League umpire staff would echo my sentiments. I can only hope this does not tarnish the career of such a fine, young prospect. Furthermore, I would speculate the whole incident could have been avoided had properly trained, professional umpires been officiating the game.

This statement was a mistake for the reasons I pointed out makes the union umps look like they're happy the replacement/scab umpire got attacked. That's not okay. Delmon Young is being rightfully pilloried in the media, and his past disgusting behavior (including bumping an AMLU umpire last season and throwing a bat within 20 feet of a pitcher) means that he is absolutely not the guy the umpires want representing their cause. The above statement essentially says "pity poor Delmon Young and the way he has to deal with substandard umpiring." This is doomed to backfire. Additionally, the position is completely unspinnable. Calling Young "respectful," "professional," and "a fine, young prospect" is simply beyond the realm of common sense when everyone in the US is looking at this video. (UPDATE: Here's a better video which includes the pitch that upset Young.)

Apparently, the AMLU had second thoughts, because between the release being posted on their website this morning (if the poster is correct) and when I visited the website this afternoon, the quote was removed. Now, they just have a copy of the AP's story, which feels totall appropriate to me.

If my hunch is right--that the AMLU decided pitying Delmon Young was the wrong call--they reached that conclusion too late, because the quote was picked up in this Baseball America story. Now, when the union umps are mentioned at all, they'll be mentioned as Delmon Young's allies. That's hardly a great PR move right now.

I can understand the AMLU's frustration--they'd like the media to make the replacement/scab umpire angle much more central to the story. (ESPN barely mentions it in all of their stories on the incident.) I share that frustration. Still, last night I figured they'd regret saying anything about this situation, and apparently they do.

I totally, totally support the strike, the union, and the strikers, and I want them to get a fair deal from the tightwad management immediately. But I think they kicked this call. They should have stayed quiet. This ill-advised press release has put them in a worse position when silence would have improved their standing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Unsolicited advice to minor league union umps

Don't say a word about the replacement/scab umps vis-a-vis the Delmon Young story today.

Not a word.

I haven't seen the play yet (I suspect I will a lot soon). And nothing--nothing--justifies what Young did. Still, I'll admit that, at first, I thought there was a possibility Young's outburst could have been avoided by more veteran crews. But it happened in the first inning, and only after Young made a prick out of himself by standing at home plate for 20 seconds after a called strike three. Only then did he chuck his bat at the umpire.

Conclusion: what we have here is a mentally ill player.

Therefore, this could have happened to any umpire.

If striking umps stay silent about the nameless home plate umpire, people will grow to realize that these are replacements on the field, and start to ask questions about their quality. Rightly or wrongly, the perception will be that the replacements don't have control on the field. (I think it's wrongly, but in this case, perception is more important than reality.)

That's what you need. But utter a word that blames the victim here (yes, the scab is the victim in this situation), and all of that potential good will is lost. Keep the lips zipped.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Had this discussion recently...

You are a high school principal. Two kids come in for the same infraction (perhaps minor, like running in the halls; perhaps major, like alcohol or drug possession).

Do you differentiate the punishment for the two kids?

I said no, and a fellow official had this response:

"Do you treat all coaches the same?"

My response didn't come out clearly then. I developed it on the way home. Ain't that always the case?

Anyway, do I treat all coaches the same?

As far as rule enforcement, yes.

Let's take the coaches' box as an example.

I go into a game between Loudmouth Butthead High School and Good Guy High School. LBHS has a coach who I know, from experience, is a bad guy. GGHS has a coach who is calm, classy, and who I think I'd enjoy hanging with.

What do I do if LBHS' coach steps outside of the box? I warn him.
If he does it again? I sternly warn him.
If he does it again? Technical foul. Even if he has been nice the whole time.

What do I do if GGHS' coach steps outside the box? I warn him.
If he does it again? I sternly warn him.
If he does it again? Technical foul. Period.

"But BloggingRef," my fellow official says. "The A students get treated differently. They've earned it. That's the way the world works."

Not as far as rule enforcement goes.

To be sure, I would treat the coaches differently in some non-rule-related ways. For example, if GGHS' coach talks to me, I will listen a lot more attentively and seriously than I will listen to LBHS' coach. And as far as how long I'll let him go before showing him my palm...well, there's going to be a difference there, too. But that's a decision I get to make.

I don't get to make decisions about which participants get to follow which rules. We can't ignore hard and fast rules some times and enforce them other times on the basis of what we think of the rulebreakers. That'd be like letting the kid who helps up an opponent handcheck at will while calling every handcheck on his opponent who rolled his eyes at the official.

Not only is this selective rule enforcement an injustice, but it gives the loudmouths a legitimate gripe against the official. "How come he gets to step out of the box but I don't?" Believe me, I am NOT going there. Ever. My fellow official can go there if he wants, and when the coach gets on him for being unfair, he'll be right.

So when that kid is in the principal's office and about to be punished, and she says "But I'm a straight-A student! Cut me a break!"...

Kid, we like you and appreciate you, but to be fair, we have to enforce the rules for everyone.

Kids, players, and coaches all will respect us more for that.

Do I treat all coaches the same? As far as rules go, I do, and we all should.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Minor League Replacement Umps

The minor league umpire strike, which I talked about earlier, has come to fruition.

A good article about it, revealing both sides of the issue, is found here.

A story about picketers marching at a Toledo Mud Hens game is here.

And I recently attended my first minor league game since the strike began.

To be fair, I bought the tickets long, long ago, before I even knew of the possibility of a strike. I didn't know for sure that there would be replacement umpires until I showed up. By the time I next plan on going to a minor-league game (June), I hope to hell the whole thing is sorted out. I support the minor league umpires wholeheartedly, not because of some mindless knee-jerk support of my fellow officials (which I admit to), but because the offer from management is insulting and disgusting. The umpires, whose salary has been the same since 1997 (the top ump in AAA make $17K a year), have been offered a $100/month pay raise, a $1/day increase in per diem, all while their insurance deductible is increased from $100 to $500 per year.

Two observations from the game I saw:

1. A young guy came up to the front row and called the names of a few members of the home team. They warmly greeted him. It turns out he was a striking umpire. The bits of conversation I recall went like this:

UMPIRE: You guys know you have scab umpires tonight.
PLAYER: Yeah. What can we do to help you?
UMPIRE: Well, don't go crazy or anything, but if you could make it clear that you don't like the work they're doing, it'd really help.
PLAYER: Yeah. Anything we can do. Anyone who asks, we'll say we got your backs.

Sure enough, a player was ejected from the game for arguing. It was a visiting player--not one of the ones I eavesdropped on. Still, in the context of the conversation I heard, it was nice.

2. I don't understand the mindset of a replacement umpire, and not because I have a job with a strong union.

My grandfather, I learned recently, got in some serious trouble once because he scabbed at an automotive plant in Detroit back in the 1930s. I don't think I would cross a picket line myself, but man, if I had to feed a family in the depression, I can't promise I would. I've read Mary Barton. I've read Grapes of Wrath. I get that people can be so desperate that a paycheck--any paycheck--is more important than the abstract notion of respecting union solidarity.

But umpiring?

I don't believe that this is the only job that any of the replacement/scab umpires can get. Nobody's family, I am utterly confident, would go family if a Florida State League game had to use players as umps (the only thing that could otherwise get the game played). I don't want to presume what's in these men's heads, but I'm highly confident that a primary motivation isn't money, but is more to get seen by people who matter. There are two issues with this. First, it's simply cutting in line. A double-A umpire has likel worked his way up through three levels of A ball to get where he is, all for either love or for the very statistically-unlikely shot at a big-league job. To cut in line while officials fight such terrible treatment by management is simply an injustice.

Also, even if they succeed and are able to handle minor-league ball, if they get hired on, they won't be forgotten by their crewmates. I know I wouldn't be able to.

3. So is it okay to heckle a scab umpire? I still don't think so, simply because I try to be polite towards those I disagree. A guy next to me kept shouting things like "That's not the way they do it in the pros, SCAB!!!" Didn't feel right to me.

I kept feeling like it was a lose-lose proposition for the umpires. I saw a second-base umpire make a gutsy (and, I think, correct) call that a second basemen never touched the bag while turning a double play. Thing is, any spectator, player, or manager who that call went against doesn't have the trust for that umpire. In the back of everyone's mind will be: "Did the scab blow it?" And that's not a position any official should want to be in.

4. On the other hand, is it possible to strike successfully when, no matter how well you do your jobs, at least half the people believe you're terrible anyway? The minor league teams are keeping the strike hush-hush. In spite of the articles I link to above, the media is awfully quiet about this. Some newspapers are reporting that there's not a noticeable difference in quality (which, in a game where nothing weird happens, might be true...but wait until the first weird situation, brawl, or beaning).

How can a group everybody dislikes succeed at a strike, when public support is essential to success? Although I completely support the umpires and sincerely want them to beat the scummy management, I don't have the answer to that conundrum. That worries me.

This sucks. I want it to end immediately or sooner, and the only way that it can be done in a just way is for management to give an offer that isn't so abjectly offensive.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


When I do three games after a six-week break, I expect the legs to be stiff and sore. But I'm always surprised when my arms hurt. The biceps are tight as hell today. I think it's because I threw them both up so often. Too damn many fouls yesterday! Ah, the hidden costs of poor play...

Go ahead and take bribes, refs.

It's fine, provided you ref the game fairly.

So says the acting secretary-general of the Nigerian Football Association.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Game Log: 4/1/2006

Three games tonight...grades 9, 7, and 6. On the whole, all three games went well. I had a first-year partner who seemed to genuinely enjoy working with me. We handled some butthead coaches pretty smoothly (had some warnings, but no Ts).

The first game was yucky. Loads of fouls. In the first half, all the fouls were on Red. They kept pressing, and they kept fouling. Coaches were angry. I warned them. A little bit later, my partner ran over, blew his whistle, and totally went after them. "Are you picking on me? You need to knock it off." Bad move, partner! You can't make it look like you're the one seeking out conflict. I hadn't yet had a chance to tell him I'd warned the coach. If I had, he simply would have T'd her up, and it would have been deserved. In fact, I think it was the assistant who was giving him trouble...and it would be MUCH easier to T her up, as she has no rights! After the game, I taught him Rule #1: You Will Take Shit. When he explained himself, I felt a lot better...he said that he mostly does men's rec ball. There, you have to be a bit more of an alpha male. But in school ball, it's better to talk, then give the stop sign, then T.

Then, in the second half of that game, Red came back. They started driving to the hoop. They were down 14 at half, and won by 9. They were fouled on virtually every drive. The foul count was way uneven, but what the hell are we gonna do about it? MVP of this game is the losing coach, who said this after the game: "Red had 33 free throws in the game, and every one of them was deserved." Very few guys would be classy enough to realize that. Nice job, coach.

Second game: just fine. Don't remember much of it other than a travel call that I'd like back...I didn't see it well enough to call it, and it's likely I missed it. The two coaches were different kinds of annoying: the first only hollered at us three or four times, but went for quality (e.g., volume) rather than quantity. Only one of them was warranted, as I see it. Two of them I were simply rules he didn't know. Once he shouted "How about a five-second count!" while an opponent was dribbling. (There's no 5-second count for a dribbler in girls' ball). Then, I had a three-second call when his team has lost the ball and it was loose for a while. He told me that the 3-second count ends when the ball is loose. A few years ago, he was right, but that rule changed recently, and I told him so. He seemed doubtful, but when he barked for the five-second call, he'd lost any credibility as far as rules knowledge anyway. He needs to hit the books...the game is different than it was when he played in high school. The other coach was more of the constant-carping school. My favorite comment: "Hey, everything you're calling on for it with them." (Foul count at this time: his team 3, their team 2.) It wasn't long after that that I warned him, which, thankfully, shut him up.

Third game...started with a big "oh, shit." Here's what went down:

Green wins the tip. They take the ball the correct direction. It's tipped out of bounds by White. Green ball. Green inbounds the ball and it's stolen by white. Rather than hauling downcourt in the correct direction, White sets up to shoot at the wrong basket, and Green dutifully defends. Something is cattywampus.

I blow my whistle.

That was my first mistake. I should have simply let the play develop. If White scores at the wrong basket, I'll blow the whistle and credit two points for White, since all 10 players were confused and not just one. Then, I'll give Green the ball, get everyone going the correct direction, and play ball.

But I blew my whistle. I went down to my partner, my brain in a jumble. I said "Who inbounded the ball?" Green had. In my head, I'd thought that he had mistakenly given the ball to White, in which case I STILL should have let it go (too late to correct that error). So I gave it back to Green. Bad call no matter how we look at it. White had legitimately stolen the ball...the best thing to do was to get White going the right direction and in-bound it to them.

Coaches go justifiably nuts.

And then, while Green is inbounding the ball, partner blows his whistle. He's about to go bark at the coach to shut up.

The game is ten seconds old, and it's already in danger of going permanently in the crapper.

I run across the court to intercept my partner. I say "Hey, let's go to the table." I get both coaches there. I say something somewhat lame, but it worked: "When the players got confused, we got confused and gave the ball to Green. But White had stolen the ball. It should be White's ball, and we're going to give it to them."

Both coaches nodded.

I had managed to get it right (albeit too late) and prevent my partner from going toe-to-toe with an angry coach.

I'll give myself credit for that, but I made two stupid mistakes to get into that situation: blew my whistle to begin with and given the ball to green. One right doesn't counterbalance two wrongs. But still, I got out of a pickle--it was just a self-created pickle.

The rest of the game was perfectly smooth. No chriping at all on either side, thank goodness. It could have been awful, but it was just fine.

THINGS I DID WELL: Coach management, handled partner's emotions, basically called three good games.


Let me write this 100 times on the board:

I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations.
I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations.
I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations.
I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations.
I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations.
I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations.
I will take a breath and think through bizarre situations...

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