Dropped calls: NBA, MLB officials under fire
They have been subjected to scorn and abuse throughout their careers, but instead of living in anonymity, referees and umpires are now being called out publicly.
Blame it on the new generation or the modern age of technology, but professional athletes seem to be more rebellious against officials than ever. If they’re not getting ejected from baseball games, they’re getting technicals in NBA playoff games. If they’re not ripping officials in the Stanley Cup, they’re lashing out at the French Open line judges.
Athletes no longer have patience to tolerate errant calls, and with TV cameras at every game, they often have the evidence to prove their case. If they feel wronged, they’re not bashful telling you about it:
•Philadelphia Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon spent Monday night deriding home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn, saying he belongs back in Class AAA.
•Miami Heat forward LeBron James wonders how in the world he could foul out of a playoff game for the first time in his career.
•New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blasted a referee’s positioning on a goal by the Los Angeles Kings.
•Caroline Wozniacki called the officiating a “disgrace” after being knocked out of the French Open.
•The NFL should be immune from the hostilities since it’s the league’s offseason, only to let it be known that replacement referees will be hired if the sides don’t reach a labor agreement.
“I always defended players as long as they worked hard,” said Torre, who managed the New York Yankees to four World Series championships. “And I defend the umpires that come to work hard, too.
“Just like Papelbon’s comments. Just because somebody in his estimation misses a call doesn’t mean that he should be punished as long as he’s there doing his job. These replays and close-ups, everybody has a chance to see it four or five times. The umpire can see it just once, and he has to make it right now.
“They’re certainly not perfect. They’re human.”
‘A brutal job’
Human or not, tempers are flaring and emotions are erupting. Fans have joined into the act, serenading referees with ugly chants.
It has gotten so carried away that Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo even slapped at the Heat’s integrity at halftime in Game 4 of their playoff series, telling ABC’s Doris Burke, “They’re complaining and crying to referees in transition.”
Then again, look who was complaining about the officiating after forward Paul Pierce fouled out for the third time in the Celtics’ last five games. Before this season, Pierce had fouled out three times in 122 playoff games.
“Listen, it is what it is,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Paul Pierce fouled out of a game where he was attacking the basket. … It’s a brutal job, especially in this series.”
James, who fouled out for the first time in 107 playoff games and for the first in any game since 2008, was in disbelief that referee Joey Crawford called him for his sixth foul with 1:51 left in overtime. James had begun to back down Boston’s Mickael Pietrus in the lane.
“I don’t think it was a foul,” James said. “I don’t foul out. If I’m going to foul out, that sixth foul, I wish I would have earned it and it had actually been a foul on me. Whatever.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra thinks his team has made strides in dealing with officials.
“We’ve managed that part of the game better than we have in the past,” he said. “Particularly in this playoff run, we’ve been able to focus on things that we can control. And that’s not one of them.”
Looking for accountability
There might be no officiating job tougher in sports than being the home-plate umpire, calling several hundred pitches a night. Reyburn, a Class AAA umpire trying to earn a full-time position in the big leagues, managed to infuriate just about everyone. He ejected Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and bench coach Trey Hillman for arguing balls and strikes. Phillies starter Vance Worley and Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw expressed frustration. And Papelbon went nuclear on Reyburn after the game.
Papelbon was livid in the ninth inning when a pitch on the inside part of the plate to Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon was called a ball. Gordon hit the next pitch for a triple and eventually scored the winning run. Papelbon didn’t blame himself for the triple but put the entire onus on Reyburn’s call on the previous pitch.
“I thought he was terrible,” Papelbon said. “All day. It wasn’t just that pitch. All day. I thought he sucked. It’s that simple.
“You’re up in the big leagues for a reason — to do a good job. And when you don’t do a good job, you should be demoted or fired. … I don’t do my job, I go down to Triple-A. There’s no room for that up here.”
Papelbon’s rage followed the rant of Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson, who says umpires should be accountable for missed calls, after his manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long were ejected Saturday night.
“You’ve seen a lot of missed plays,” Granderson said. “They’re humans back there. They’re going to make some mistakes. But part of the game is, sometimes there have to be some consequences for it.
“As players, if we make mistakes, there are consequences for us. You get errors, you get pulled out, possibly sent down. Different stuff happens to us. There has to be a similar type of situation on the other end.”
Yet umpires say they are more accountable today than ever. Their performance is monitored by computers, with readouts available when they come to work the next day. It will reveal how many balls and strikes were called accurately, along with any possible missed plays on the basepaths.
“When I hear people say we’re not accountable, that really (tees) me off,” MLB umpiring supervisor Ed Montague, who umpired 34 years, told USA TODAY Sports. “You’re accountable for yourself. If I missed a play, it would bother me for a long time. It eats you up.
“The only difference now is that it’s a giant fishbowl we’re living in. If an umpire makes an error, it’s coast to coast, with all of the cameras and TVs everywhere.”
One veteran umpire told USA TODAY Sports that umps are not opposed to MLB expanding instant replay. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Then again, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says, perhaps that animosity between players and umpires will never go away.
Veteran umpire Bob Davidson and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel were already suspended for one game for swearing at each other, and umpire Laz Diaz recently refused to let Yankees catcher Russell Martin throw the ball back to the pitcher after foul balls were hit out of play.
“It’s a group that I generally have a lot of respect for,” Maddon says. “It’s that subgroup that maybe you don’t have as much respect for. It’s bedside manner as much as anything else.”
Torre sees a trend that goes well beyond the court or the diamond.
“I think it’s a little more tense now,” Torre said. “It’s not just baseball. It’s not just sports. It’s everywhere. There’s less patience in our society.”
Thanks to the great folks at PhatzRadio – A New Voice In Sports Talk Radio With Rock, Jazz, Soul, R.