Open Mic: Officials Are Human Too

Kevin LuchanskyAnalyst IMay 23, 2008

I can still recall the day, nearly six years ago, when I arrived at the ballpark to umpire my first game ever. Minutes earlier, when I left the house, both of my parents wished me luck.

Good luck? I wasn’t playing in the game, so what did I need any luck for?

It turns out I needed more luck than had been wished upon me—I was torn apart and questioned after every single call I made.

Maybe I had gone in with the mindset that this would be easy. Maybe I was a little cocky—I had played baseball all my life, how hard could it be to umpire the bases?

I got involved with umpiring because I really missed the game—the fresh cut grass, a new baseball, the smell of the leather, and the feeling that runs through your veins on game day were all missing from my life.

Officiating and umpiring is in my blood, so I can be a little biased in my opinions on the matter—my father has been refereeing college basketball games for years.

As a kid, I was quick to blame any sort of game official when the calls weren’t going my team’s way. As a result, no kid was scolded more often than I was for putting the blame on officials.

One thing I think most fans fail to realize, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, is that officials are humans too. They make mistakes every day, just like you and I.

Baseball players commit errors, football players drop passes, throw interceptions, and fumble the ball, basketball players miss shots and commit turnovers, but umpires and officials aren’t allowed to make mistakes?

The NFL made an excellent move when they decided to implement the “challenge,” which allows coaches to challenge the ruling on the field made by the officials. The Big Ten conference soon followed suit and experimented with reviewing plays, which became a success and was permanently installed around the country.

Football is an extremely hard game to officiate. On any given play there may be a few lineman holding their opponents, players blocking in the back and, cornerbacks interfering with wide receivers—so the “challenge” sits well with me.

When the game is on the line, it’s crucial that the correct call is made.

I will say that I am glad that coaches are limited in the number of red flags they’re allowed to throw; otherwise we would see as many red flags fly as yellow ones.

That being said, I am not for implementing a “challenge,” or anything similar to it, in Major League Baseball.

As fans, coaches, and scouts, we applaud baseball players who hit .300 over the course of a season. Athletes who are succeeding three out of every ten times at the plate are rewarded and make it to the next level.

A good umpire may call a game correctly 98 percent of the time, but is bashed by the coaches and the media for a call or two that they may or may not have botched.

This has been a tough week for Major League umpires.  As many as three apparent home runs were ruled ground rule doubles, and upon further review we all know that those baseballs did in fact leave the yard—even if only for a second.

Watching the replays of these “home runs” over and over again has caused me to question my opinion on implementing reviewable plays in Major League Baseball, or any level of the game.

As a result, I feel that the MLB should consider making a few plays “reviewable,” if the umpires agree to it—meaning that the manager would not be able to request a review, but the umpires must collectively agree to check the monitors.

If managers were given the opportunity to challenge the calls on the field, skippers like Lou Piniella and Jimmy Leyland would get more face time than their players.

My only concern with implementing reviewable plays, such as home runs or fair and foul balls, is that this will lead to more and more plays being deemed as reviewable.

What would come next—technology determining balls and strikes?

As for basketball, I feel that these officials do the best work possible. I’m not saying that the work they do on the court is superior to the work umpires do on the diamond or greater than the work referees do on the gridiron.

Simply put, basketball referees must separate acting from competing.

How does a referee determine a blocking foul from an offensive charge when “the flop” happens more now than ever? How can they determine if the contact was significant enough to be deemed a foul?

A lot of times, the so called “best defenders” are actually the best actors.

All in all, I think technology and reviews have improved officiating on all levels. However, it also has the ability to ruin the game, and I hope the MLB doesn’t fall victim.