Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Umpire has never cost a team a game

Now that I have your attention, let me end the year with a controversial post that I hope will generate some comments.   This post may be lengthy, but can be summed up in one sentence:  I have never seen a game that a team lost due to an Official’s call.   I’m not only limiting this to baseball games that I've seen live.  I’m including other sports such as football and basketball, and any baseball games at any level.   But it’s human nature to blame any failure (whether a group result such as a team loss or an individual failure such as an error or strike out.) on something else  --  “we were  tired from the long bus trip”, “the ball took a bad hop”,” the sun was in my eyes”, “the umpire blew the call”.   You never hear a player say “I have lousy skills”, “I can’t field a ground ball properly”, “I don’t have good command of the strike zone”.
It’s not only players.  I hear complaints all the time from friends that I’m watching games with.  “The ref just cost them the game with that call”.  (Sometimes I think they pile it on a bit thicker because they know I’m an Umpire, but I’ve listened to enough sports talk radio to realize that this attitude is common). 
Even my own son has come home from a high school baseball game and when asked how the game was answered “the Umpires were awful – they lost the game for us”. My disappointment in hearing my own flesh and blood complain about the Umpires, turned to amusement when I found out the final score was  16-1. Yeah, I’m sure that the bang-bang play at first base in the second inning that even with instant replay wouldn’t be conclusive, but from the bench you could tell he was safe by a mile, accounted for the 15 run difference. 
Umpires are not perfect (although some of us think we are), and we do make mistakes.  Sometimes we call a borderline pitch incorrectly without anyone noticing and no consequences, and other times we blow an out call at home plate that directly costs a team a run and are on the front page of the news.  In spite of this, I will maintain that a team has never lost a game because of the officiating.
I’m challenging my readers to find an instance of a game that was lost due to an official’s call.  There are many famous incidents I can think of off the top of my head where an Umpire or referee or crew have been blamed, but in my mind  none of these cases stand up to scrutiny.  I’ll even help you get started.   How about Game 6 from the 1985 World Series where people blame Mr. Denkinger for the Cardinals not winning the championship?  Or the 1972 Russia –US basketball final.  Before anyone yells out “Jim Joyce”, he did make one bad call (out of more than 200 calls made in that game), and it did cost Galarraga a no-hitter, but the Tigers still won.

So, go at it.  Find me an example where an official blew a game, and I’ll either explain why your perception is incorrect, or I’ll admit I’m wrong. 

Happy New Year to all!!


  1. I would like to think you are right and like you, I will defend the officials to the end... that being said a call by a official can change the outcome of a game, right? I have officiated baseball and basketball for well over 30 years and think that I have made calls that were wrong. Some even changed the winner. The one example was after a int. foul call with 1 sec on the clock we gave the ball at the wrong spot. The team scored... if we gave the ball at the proper spot the could not have scored. I have more examples.

  2. I have preached this to my players for years. ONE call does not make any difference in a game one way or the other. You, as a team, can not put yourself into a position where said call makes the difference in the outcome of the game. If you took care of business before said call, it would be meaningless. There is a BIG difference if you get a "bad" call at the plate down 2-1 or up 15-2 but that is the situation, not the call.

  3. The only time I may have cost a team a game would be at the coin toss! And that is if I flip the coin. I agree that the outcome may hinge on a specific call, however, it is statistcally impossible to blame a whole game on an official. Too many other factors.

  4. Totally agree with anonymous (#2). You should never put your team in a situation where a bad call (or a bad bounce / fluke play) can cost you a game.
    Anon #1 - I'm sure you made some calls that were wrong, but I don't believe they changed the winner. In your 1 second left example, did the losing team miss any shots all game? Did a player go 7 - 10 from the free throw line? If he had gone 10-10 your call wouldn't have mattered.
    Anon #3 - The outcome doesn't hinge on any specific call anymore then it does on any specific play. A blown call at home plate in the bottom of the 9th doesn't affect the outcome of a game anymore than a batter striking out with the bases loaded in the 1st inning, instead of hitting a grand slam (it just may be more memorable, and get more media coverage).

  5. I agree. It may look like it was the officials call (perception) but in reality there are to many factors during a game or even before the game. Let say a pitcher broke up with his gf the night before so he could concentrate on his pitching.

  6. By the way, I've added some comments to an excellent article on The Hardball Times that gets into a discussion of the Denkinger game - and explains clearly why it was not that call that cost the Cardinals a World Series.