After Friday's Ravens and Orioles games, officiating has seemingly reached a new low

August 18, 2012|Peter Schmuck

The NFL is playing the preseason with replacement officials, so I guess you have to expect that there are going to be some strange calls and delayed rulings like the ones that turned Friday night's exhibition between the Ravens and Detroit Lions into a messy midnight marathon.

If only major league baseball could make the same excuse.

While the replacements were flagging almost every exciting play in the Lions' 27-12 victory over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, the umpiring crew at Comerica Park in Detroit was again confirming what critics have been saying since April — that major league officiating has reached a new and troubling low.

The ejections of Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds and manager Buck Showalter in the wake of a series of apparent umpire misjudgments was only the latest indignity in a maddening season of missed calls and indecipherable strike zones. It almost seems like the umpires are trying to convince commissioner Bud Selig to go to full video replay.

Before we go any further, a quick disclaimer. This is not going to be a diatribe about the way the umpires are supposedly dumping on the Orioles. Showalter would be the first to tell you that his team has been the beneficiary of some of those blown calls this year, just not this week. The Orioles lost a run in the first inning of Friday night's game against the Tigers when Nick Markakis appeared to be safely across the plate, and they lost another one during the Boston series when Adam Jones was called out incorrectly at first base on what would have been an RBI infield hit.

This also is not an attempt to rationalize the Ravens' loss to the Lions since, frankly, the only people who care about the scores of preseason NFL games are the people who bet on them. It is more a statement on the quality of a game for which fans paid full price to see the Ravens starters for less than one half and underqualified officials for nearly four hours.

"It's unbelievable,'' Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin said. "They've really got to do something about that. Some of the calls out there ... the way the game was being stopped. It just looked unprofessional."

Quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't quite so strident, but he couldn't deny that the shower of yellow flags during the first half was "a little annoying."

Center Matt Birk was a bit more forgiving, rightly pointing out that those officials — most of whom have extensive college experience — are in a tough spot.

"It's a difficult situation for everybody,'' Birk said. "I feel for those guys out there. They have been thrown into the fire on the biggest stage in the world. They're on a FOX national game and every mistake is being magnified. These guys have been thrown together and probably have never worked together before."

There was a point in the second half when John Harbaugh had the red review flag in his hand, but — thankfully — he didn't throw it or we might all still be at M&T Bank Stadium waiting for the officials to figure out how to use the replay machine.

Upstairs, NFL supervisors at the far right end of the press box were scrambling throughout the game to correct the officials on the field and make sure the ultimate outcomes were correct. Maybe baseball ought to consider the "Eye in the Sky" concept, which might have averted Friday's fiasco in Detroit.

If baseball had full replay (which, to be fair, I have not previously endorsed), Markakis likely would have been ruled safe at home in the first inning and first base umpire Jeff Kellogg's initial call on the reversed call at first probably would have been upheld. No controversy. No ejections.

Instead, you had the strange situation in which Reynolds could rightly point out after the game that the guy (home plate umpire Tim Timmons) who apparently missed the call five feet away from him at home plate in the first inning overruled the later call at first base from 90 feet away.

"I don't understand how an umpire can miss a play at home plate that's right in front of him and see that play from home plate at first base,'' Reynolds told reporters. "It's embarrassing that they would overturn a call that obviously has an impact on the game in the middle of the pennant race."

Enter third-year umpire Vic Carapazza, who was not directly involved in the dispute but stepped in to eject Reynolds from the game for throwing his glove to the ground in disgust and uttering a profanity to no one in particular. That's not normally an ejectable offense, and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer — who has proven to be a fairly objective observer over the years in spite of his role as an Orioles television analyst — called it a clear "overreaction" by the young umpire.

Now, we can all wait to see if major league baseball compounds this ridiculous chain of events by suspending Reynolds for his critical public comments and further disadvantaging the Orioles in the tight American League wild-card race.

In both sports, the integrity of the game is supposed to be paramount, but that certainly was called into question at both Comerica Field and M&T Bank Stadium on Friday night.

In the case of the NFL, however, the league is involved in an ongoing labor dispute with its officials and has little choice at the moment than to officiate the preseason games with college-level replacements.

Baseball has no such excuse, so the only answer may be another expansion of video replay.

[Editor's note: Peter Schmuck covered the Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium, then reviewed the controversial plays in the Orioles-Tigers game on the replay of that game on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network early Saturday morning.]

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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