I’m an avid basketball fan in the winter months, and that includes watching the Washington Bul-Wizards (sorry, creature of habit). They may be horrible, but I watch them when they’re on. In watching Wednesday night’s loss at Orlando, I noticed several fouls that weren’t whistled in the Wizards’ favor. Furthermore, I also felt that the officials called several ticky-tack fouls on the Wiz; this after coach Flip Saunders was ejected less than two minutes into Monday’s loss at Boston for arguing a foul that wasn’t called.
So…how is this relevant to the O’s? While the Wizards have been in the playoffs a few times, they’ve been much worse comparatively speaking than the Orioles have been over the past 20 years. Most people that know me are aware of the fact that I’m fairly merciless on game officials/umpires if they make a bad call. I find the Orioles in similar circumstances during games when it comes to umpires. For the record, I don’t think for one minute that umps and refs are purposely making bad calls against a team. (Although we’ve all seen instances where coaches or teams have probably been spited.) However I would question why sometimes it seems that the Orioles’ opponents are generally getting “the benefit of the doubt.”
Some people might say that I’m a guy that follows and writes on behalf of a losing team; in other words this is sour grapes. However we’ve all seen calls in sports that have been so abysmal that they leave us scratching our heads. When this occurs, do you ever notice that certain teams never seem to have to complain? Probably the worst call I’ve seen involving the Orioles is the Jeffrey Maier situation in Yankee Stadium in the 1996 playoffs. (In fairness to the umpire, Rich Garcia, I always gave him credit for admitting that he blew the call after seeing the replay after the game. I recognize that these plays happen very quickly and that snap decisions have to be made.) That’s a call that will forever live in infamy in Baltimore, and while the Orioles were a great team that season, the call went in NY’s favor.
That may be a poor example; the O’s were good that year. But think back to last July’s melee in Boston involving David Ortiz and Kevin Gregg. The fight was one thing, but it also spilled into a game on that corresponding Sunday afternoon. Vladimir Guerrero was hit in the hand by a pitch (which later sent him to the DL), and the home plate ump warned both benches. Pretty standard, right? Perhaps, but in a sense what he did was punish the Orioles for getting a batter plunked. If either team hits a batter both the skipper and the pitcher are tossed. (For the record, if the umpires were set on keeping things in control they would have warned both benches before the game even started.)
I just feel that the Orioles are generally the ones left complaining when the strike zone seems to fluctuate late in games. In April of last year I traveled to Cleveland, OH with the Orioles when they took on the Indians. The Birds got swept in the series, and Luke Scott struck out looking in the top of the 9th to make the final out of the Sunday afternoon game. In order to get to the pitch, Scott would have needed a lacrosse stick. Both Scott and Buck Showalter appeared to let the home plate umpire know their displeasure with the call. Furthermore, how many times have opposing runners been given “the benefit of the doubt” on the base paths when calls were close? I remember an instance in August where Buck Showalter got ejected from a game against Chicago for arguing a call at third base when the ChiSox runner was clearly out.
Again, I don’t necessarily blame the umpires believe it or not, and the point here isn’t to start a Family Feud kind of situation with ol’ blue. As I said above, if the league isn’t going to expand instant replay to allow umpires to get calls right, we have to live with the snap judgements they make. (Incidentally, I’m not in favor of replay for balls and strikes; calls on the base paths, fair/foul calls, etc. are a different story.) However I do have to question whether or not some teams suffer more than others when it comes to “judgment calls.” You rarely see Joe Girardi complain about calls, and the same can be said for Terry Francona (insert Bobby Valentine). Even in that final game last year when the Orioles knocked Boston out of playoff contention, a balk was called on Orioles’ starter Alfredo Simon which was pretty sketchy.
I’m not trying to say “poor Orioles woe to them” here. There are bad calls all over the league on a daily basis. I’m just saying that I do see some teams getting the benefit of the doubt, and others not so much. I remember a story about a young pitcher breaking into baseball and having to face Ted Williams in one of his first games. Williams drew a walk after taking a borderline pitch for ball four. When the pitcher asked how that pitch had missed the strike zone, the umpire replied, “…it’s a ball because Mr. Williams said it was a ball.”
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