Many sports fans think they’re experts. They think they could easily be coach, manager or general manager. They think they know how an athlete thinks based on their 10th grade Team Sports class they got an A in.
There is a small percentage who realize they’re not experts and could never play at the level the millionaires do. Take the original majority and add the small realistic percentage I just mentioned and you can hardly see the tiny amount of fans who side with the umpire or referee. Almost every fan thinks they could regulate a game better than an official.
Today, baseball seems to be under the most scrutiny. Instant replay is slowly gaining ground in a technologically fast-paced world where Jonathan Papelbon’s time on the mound far exceeds a replay or two reviewed by the umpires (there’s a reason he only pitches one inning – good luck, Phillies).
I will not say major league umpires are perfect, but they are the best. Read As They Seem Them by Bruce Weber and you’ll see how much education umpires go through to get to the big leagues. You’ll also see how much pride they put into their occupations.
These men will get calls wrong, but far less than every other person in the world. The problem is when they do mess up a call, the common sports fan can’t do one simple thing: get over it. Calls will go against your team and calls with favor them. It’s a 162-game schedule. It will all even out.
Wrong calls are part of the fun. How many times have you laughed and cheered while watching replays on TV of your player getting tagged out stealing a base and the umpire calls him safe? I giggle at the perplexity of the opposing player and gasp in delight when I see the manager storm from the dugout. An opposing manager being thrown out is the equivalent of a called third strike with two outs and the bases loaded.
Fans in the stands, do you think riding the umpire is helping your cause? Heckling the ump would be like teasing your boss in front of everyone for not giving you a full raise. Do you think he’s going to give it to you next period?
Umpires hear catcalls every day. They’re used to it. In fact, many of them likely enjoy them. It’s part of the job. If I were an ump, I’d revel those on-the-black called strikes just to hear the crowd react.
You really think you have a better vantage point from the third-base line?
I laugh when TV announcers show the replay of the last pitch and the ball doesn’t go through the imaginary strike zone the network has put up. Someone like Tim McCarver says, “The ump missed that one. It was a strike.”
No, Tim, it’s not a strike unless the umpire says it is. I don’t care what your screen says.
Here’s an activity I like to do at minor-league games. I cheer for the umpires. This makes me, in the words of George Orwell, a lunatic (a.k.a. a minority of one).
Sure, I want my team to win, but the umpire is not going to have much to do with that, so why boo him when you can cheer him? While the drunks who can’t see what time their watch says yell obscenities at the umps plate calling, I like to yell, “That was a good call, ump! You’re doing fine!” I’m still rooting for my team, but I’m helping the umpire realize the crowd isn’t entirely a bunch of ignorant, close-minded fans who think every close call should go their way like an obese eight-year old who really believes he should “Collect All Five!” happy-meal toys.
Give the ump a break. Despite the mask and stoic posture, he is human. He’s human in that he has feelings and he probably wouldn’t mind exacting revenge on an angry, immature crowd on the next close call. As a professional, they’d never admit to such an act, but as the incognito, conniving revenge artist I can be, I know I’d sway my calls to the team and its fans that annoyed me the least.
Bart Giamatti told us baseball was designed to break your heart, so let it. Enjoy it for tomorrow it might not.