It's official, this year is most foul

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Kevin Hench

An accomplished film and television writer, Kevin Hench's latest screenwriting credit is for The Hammer, which stars Adam Carolla. His podcast, Spider and the Henchman, is available every Friday on iTunes. MORE>>

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 sports all-stars:

Jim Joyce! Bennett Salvatore! Koman Coulibaly! David Price! (No, not that David Price, the AL Cy Young favorite; David Price, the guy in the blazer who stole the show at the PGA Championship on Sunday.)

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Another day, another major sporting event ruined by the officials.


If you liked the umpiring in the 2009 MLB playoffs, the refereeing in the 2010 NBA playoffs and the officiating of the 2010 World Cup, you must have loved the conclusion of Sunday’s PGA Championship.

It’s a great name for a golf course and it pretty much sums up the dire condition of officiating in pro sports: Whistling Straits.

Whether replay is altogether proscribed, used minimally or employed thoroughly and microscopically, apparently there is no sporting event the officials cannot hijack and ruin.

Time and again, the nonathletes find a way to wrest control of the outcome from the players. Sometimes, it’s a missed call that can’t be revisited. Sometimes, it’s a blown call that can’t be reviewed. And, in golf, it’s often the picayune application of the letter of the law – aided greatly by magnified high-definition television images – to disproportionately punish a golfer for a minor transgression through which he gained no advantage.

Ah, the glory of competition!

If the goal of any umpire or referee is not to be noticed, it’s safe to say the past year has not been a good one for the officials.

The Year of the (Inept) Official may have reached its apotheosis on Sunday when Price and his fellow functionaries halted the proceedings so they could determine if an electron on Dustin Johnson’s club had made contact with an electron of earth in a patch of matted-down dirt that at one point in time had been intended to be a bunker.


  • What's the biggest officiating blunder of the last year?
    • Jim Joyce taking away the perfect game
    • The disallowed U.S. goal vs. Slovenia
    • The PGA penalizing Dustin Johnson
    • England's no-goal against Germany
    • The missed France handball vs. Ireland

Johnson may have grounded his club. Price definitely grounded the championship.

There’s a reason there’s a time limit on how long an NFL official can spend under the hood. The idea isn’t to get into every call on a molecular level. Replay is there to quickly and efficiently correct calls that were clearly missed.

Did Dustin Johnson violate the spirit of the law? Of course not. Did he violate the letter of the law? It depends on the quality of your television. On my TV, it did look like some grains of dirt (you could hardly call it sand) had been disturbed after Johnson addressed the ball.

And for that he was bounced from a three-man playoff for the title and into fifth place.

The overly officious officiating became the story, so much so that CBS’ David Feherty was actually interviewing Johnson while balls were in flight during the playoff Johnson had been excluded from.

Martin Kaymer’s eventual victory was greeted with polite applause. The roar that might accompany a 25-year-old’s first major title was muted by the crowd’s (correct) suspicion that Johnson had suffered a grave injustice. Hard to cheer for a guy who may have won because some busybody borrowed a magnifying glass – CBS’ high-def replay – to eliminate the competition.

Later on Sunday, the Mets' Jose Reyes would clearly steal second base only to be erroneously called out by Ed Rapuano.

The blown call gave ESPN the perfect opportunity to share the results of its recent study of close calls in Major League Baseball.

Over two weeks in June and July, big-league umps got 66 percent of close calls right. They missed 20 percent, and 14 percent were just too close to call even with the help of high-def replay.

The study was brought about in part because MLB umps had proven virtually incapable of getting a close call right in the 2009 playoffs and also missed a handful of not-so-close calls, most notably by Tim McClelland. Time and time again, replay would reveal the limitations of the men in blue.


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Those limitations approached Greek tragedy on June 2, when Jim Joyce cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game by, as Joyce said, “kicking the s(pit)” out of a call at first base. The story should have been Galarraga tossing baseball’s third perfect game in less than a month. But because it’s the Year of the Official, the story quickly became about Jim Joyce and the way he handled his gaffe.

Gee, just think about it, if baseball entered the 21st century and expanded replay, Armando Galarraga might have a perfect game, but Jim Joyce wouldn’t have appeared on the ESPY Awards.

Joyce referred to his flub on what would have been the 27th out of a perfect game as “the biggest call of my career.” Wrong again. Joyce was the left-field line umpire when Mark Bellhorn hit what would prove to be a decisive three-run home run in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. After the ball hit a fan in the stands and bounced back onto the field Joyce ruled the ball in play. It was only after all five of the other umpires – despite being farther from the play – told Joyce they had seen it correctly that his mistake was rectified.

Home run replay would now protect against that near fiasco. Oh, that replay could have saved Joyce from the fiasco of June 2.

At least baseball is opening its traditionally narrow mind to expanding replay.

Even as call after disastrous call marred this year’s World Cup, FIFA president Sepp Blatter resisted cries to employ TV technology to save his sport from the repeated mistakes of incompetent officials.

Those cries grew loudest in the United States after Koman Coulibaly, an official from that footballing hotbed Mali, cost the United States a victory against Slovenia by disallowing a perfectly good goal by Maurice Edu. Replays showed that not only should Edu’s goal have stood for a 3-2 U.S. victory, but three separate Americans also were being assaulted on the play.

What Coulibaly saw and called remains a mystery.

Amazingly, Coulibaly barely stood out in a sea of officiating incompetence.

Jorge Larrionda and his assistant Mauricio Espinosa both somehow missed a goal by England’s Frank Lampard on a shot that hit under the crossbar and landed well behind the goal line.


  • The Dustin Johnson ruling was ...
    • Stupid; that's not a bunker
    • Correct; a player should know the rule

In Germany’s quarterfinal romp over Argentina, official Ravshan Irmatov deemed an obviously incidental handball by Tomas Muller intentional, issuing a yellow card that disqualified the tournament’s Golden Boot winner from the semifinal against Spain.

In the scrappy Spain-Netherlands final, Howard Webb let off Nigel de Jong with a yellow card for his flying karate kick to Xabi Alonso’s sternum, an attack that might have netted jail time had it occurred on the street.

The officiating was so bad in the World Cup, some fans must have found it a seamless transition from the just-completed NBA playoffs, which were officiated so haphazardly that it was not uncommon for both opposing coaches in a playoff series to bemoan the poor quality of the refs.

The low point for the NBA officials may have come in Game 3 of the Finals, when they consulted replay on a disputed possession call late in a tight contest.

The replay showed that Bennett Salvatore, Danny Crawford and Bill Kennedy had missed a call as spectacularly as a call can be missed.

The officials had ruled that the ball had gone out off Boston’s Rajon Rondo and awarded possession to the Lakers. The replay clearly showed L.A.’s Lamar Odom was the last to touch it. The replay also clearly showed the reason Odom could not haul in the rebound was that his arm was being held by Rondo, an obvious foul.

So not only had they missed who the ball went out off, but they also had missed a clear foul, too.

Of course, the idiotic restrictions of replay didn’t allow them to retroactively call a foul on Rondo or even keep the ball with the Lakers. They were obligated to compound their initial mistake by making another and awarding the ball to the Celtics.

At this point, of course, Celtics fans were already calling for Crawford’s head, having watched him achieve the impossible: turning in an inferior officiating performance to his running mate Salvatore.

And just when you thought maybe the NFL had avoided this bad officiating pandemic, along came Bill Leavy to remind you he had royally screwed up in the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL victory over the Seahawks.

Two weeks ago, without being asked, Leavy announced he had “kicked two calls in the fourth quarter” of that Super Bowl. He went on to add: “I’ll go to my grave wishing I’d done better.”

What, is he trying to get invited to next year’s ESPY Awards?

Maybe, as a dreadful official, he just felt obliged to pipe up in this, the dreadful Year of the Official.

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