Domenic Vadala: Why do some teams get the calls?

We all saw what happened Friday night in Detroit, so I’ll spare you another testimonial or play-by-play account. However, while we don’t know what type of internal training or reporting that Major League Baseball requires of its umpires, I think we can all agree with Mark Reynolds in that there’s very little outward accountability for the umps.

There are a couple of different ways to look at this. First off, it’s the natural inclination of an employer to protect his/her employee when controversey comes about. (You’ve heard the concept of publically defend but privately discipline, I’m sure.) But that aside, why is it that some teams at the very least seem to get the benefit of the doubt?

This is a rhetorical question, and my only response is that I just don’t know. In looking at the Friday incident, one can even see a stark difference in how both teams were handled. Detroit manager Jim Leyland came out to argue the safe call on the the Jhonny Peralta play, and the umpires not only seemed to listen to his beef but Tim Timmons and Jeff Nelson did the baseball version of a zebra conference. When Buck Showalter came out to re-argue the play (and Reynolds’ ejection), he was received by the umpires in a fairly provoking manner. Players and coaches can’t touch umpires, but the same is not true in reverse, evidenced by the fact that the umps had their hands all over Showalter. That got Showalter even angrier, which ultimately resulted in his ejection.

I’ve never thought of Detroit as a team that gets calls, and there should never be teams that get calls in sports. A strike is a strike, and an out is out - that goes regardless of who the teams are. The same holds true for other sports - a flop on defense is always a flop, right Mike Krzyzewski? So, in that sense, I don’t buy into the idea that leagues or officials favor certain teams. In fact, think about how hard an umpire or ref would have to try to protect certain teams. Over the course of the game, these guys have to make snap decisions on the skip. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that they might have to stop and think about their call in order to truly protect a certain team or city?

This is not in any way to excuse what happened Friday night, or to excuse poor officiating at any stage of a game or season. Given what I said above, the whole umpire conference followed by Showalter getting shoved several times by the umpiring crew did, in a way, look somewhat suspicious. Furthermore, it was extremely unprofessional decorum on the part of the umpiring crew. However, we still haven’t answered that rhetorical question I posed: Why does it seem like some teams get the benefit of the doubt?

Realistically, I think that umpires (and refs) are probably due a bit more credit than we give them. I’m not talking about the job that they do, although most would agree that it’s a thankless job. But where players and coaches read scouting reports on certain players, teams and even coaches to figure out tendencies, I suspect that umpires do the same thing. So if a guy is known for having a good batter’s eye, is it not possible that on a pitch that’s borderline, the umpire might give him the benefit of the doubt? The same would be true of out and safe calls; if a guy is known to hustle, might the ump not give him the benefit of the doubt on a bang-bang play?

Previous installments of the Orioles have had a reputation as having their pitchers nibble on the zone and as having no patience at the plate. That’s not always the case any longer, though old habbits die hard. I suppose that the gist of my point is that I fail to believe that the umpires or the league are rooting for teams such as Boston, New York, Detroit, etc. - or rooting against the Orioles.

I don’t buy into that, nor do I buy into the idea that those teams play in bigger cities and Major League Baseball wants to get ratings in those places. However, if you buy into the reputation idea, keep in mind that old habbits die hard. With that said, add my name to the list of people that stood and applauded after Mark Reynolds’ comments Friday night. (But I think you already knew that!)

Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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