Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

The Replacements: A Defense of Replacement Officials

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Originally published in September 21, 2012 as part of Rambling On’s original Sports Ramble series.

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It’s popular to talk trash about the replacement officials in the NFL. Keeping in mind that I’m not the sort of guy who takes the other side just to get a rise out of people, I find it completely necessary to stick up for the replacement officials.

There are many bad calls each week in the NFL, even with the regular officials. I have never seen a football game with great officiating. While it is human to err the amount of mistakes regular referees make, and the games that they change the end result on, are many. For example, last year when the Vikings played the Lions Joe Webb blatantly got tackled by his facemask as the Vikings were threatening to score on the last play of the game and there was no call.

I only remember that one vividly because I was a Vikings fan at the time. But any person who has watched football…well, ever, knows that every game in NFL history has been marred by officiating in some way, some games more blatantly (and with more disastrous results) than others.

Bad officiating has marred many important games – even football’s most important game, the Super Bowl. In 2010 the NFL admitted that referees missed calls in both the AFC and NFC championship games. The most shocking part about these blown calls is that there were multiple late hit and rouging penalties that weren’t called (this was the year that New Orleans embarrassed the NFL and themselves by participating in what is now called bountygate).

This point is poignant because there are a lot of people who are saying that the replacement referees are somehow endangering the safety of the players. Well, the regular referees have done a good job of that in the past themselves – just ask Brett Favre.

As if AFC and NFC championship games weren’t bad enough to ruin, officials have gone on record admitting that their blown calls have effected the outcome of a Super Bowl. In 2006 the Seattle Seahawks had their only Super Bowl appearance marred by officiating that was so poor, and so slanted against the Seahawks, that officials from the game have admitted that they’ve lost sleep over it. I especially remember that Super Bowl because from the start I had a feeling that the referees would try to hand the game to the Steelers so Jerome Bettis could retire with a Super Bowl ring (stories about it were all over leading up to the game).

I know that highlighting a few poorly officiated games and blown calls doesn’t conclusively prove that regular NFL officials are awful. They aren’t. They often do an adequate job. But the regular referres aren’t perfect; as a matter of fact, they were far from perfect, and the replacement officials are doing just as good, if not better, than they were. If you still don’t believe me, read the brilliant Wall Street Journal audit of the replacement officials.

There have been complaints that the replacements have caused games to go longer; indeed, the WSJ article notes that games have increased in time by about 6 minutes per game, or a measly 1.5 minutes per quarter. This can be explained partially by the increase in booth reviews because coaches don’t trust the replacements (though the WSJ study shows that the calls made on the field are usually right).

The larger reason games are lasting longer, though, is because of all the time wasted by coaches and players berating the replacement officials. More often than not this tactic is simply a sad attempt to try and bully the replacements and throw them off. The griping that coaches and players do off the field is usually just sour grapes. Close to home Jared Allen and Percy Harvin have both complained about what they thought were blown calls that actually weren’t, but this is going on all over the league, both during games and after.

The most annoying part about this entire situation, by far, is the constant complaining by the players, coaches, and fans over something that really isn’t an issue at all. The replacement referees are doing the best they can and if you look at the numbers – as they say, numbers never lie – you’ll see that they’re actually doing a fine job. The main point is this: in every football game there are blown calls, replacement officials or not, and sometimes they impact even the outcome of the game. The only reason people are noticing and harping on replacement officials is because they’re new and it’s a story.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

An apology to Cal Ripken, Jr.

Cal Ripken Jr. is one of the nicest, and best, people in baseball history. His major accomplishment, setting legendary Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played, proves his work ethic and dedication to the game.

Although he’d never want to admit it I get a lot of my negativity from my Dad. When Ripken set the record in 1996 my Dad wrote it off. “Eh, his record doesn’t count,” he’d say. “Did he play during the strike?” Instead of acknowledging Ripken’s amazing feat he didn’t see it as an accomplishment because of the previous year’s baseball strike. But the strike had nothing to do with Ripken and doesn’t at all diminish the dedication it takes to play so many games in a row.

My oldest nephew’s name is Cal. Although his parents deny it I know it was inspired by Cal Ripken Jr., one of my former brother-in-laws heroes. I’d always try to get him going by making fun of Ripken: “You know, his streak doesn’t count because of the strike, right?” It never worked. He’d just shake his head.

Today I watched most of MLB Network’s “My Most Memorable Game” series with Ripken talking about the game he broke Gehrig’s record. Watching it I was finally able to understand why he is so highly regarded in baseball. He has a great attitude and an obvious love for the game. He’s also very humble. He nearly cried several times when he talked about how much his Dad, Orioles’ legend Ripken Sr., meant to him.

Ripken is a good example of some of the most important lessons in life: persistence, perseverance, and love and respect for what you do. As a guy who usually can’t even make it to work on time his dedication is inspiring. It’s finally time that I give Cal Ripken Jr. his due.

And Ron, you done good naming your son after such a great man.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North and writes frequent Daily Rambles. Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

Less Than We Deserve: The 2012 Minnesota Twins

Your 2012 Minnesota Twins

from Volume 2, Issue 1 of Ramblin’ On

I’m really glad I didn’t do a “MLB 2012 season predictions” article like I did with the NFL last year. While such speculation is fun even professionals mostly look stupid for most of the predictions they make.

Going into the season I was cautiously optimistic about the Twins. This may be revisionist history, but thanks to the help of the exper-…above ave-…decent Twins beat reporters I was able to ascertain basically how the Twins season shook out before it happened. Our lineup, being one of the best in our division, would not be too much of an issue. The bullpen had potential to perform well if each member lived up to their strengths. Finally, our entire season would ride on how well our starting pitching would perform.

All of these have basically come true. While their overall batting numbers seem abysmal at first sight – 22nd out of 30 in all of baseball and 12th out of 14 in the American League – most days the lineup gives the team a chance to win. It could be argued that failed experiments and general underachievers Clete Thomas, Erik Komatsu, Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, Sean Burroughs, and others have lowered those numbers.

Our top 7 hitters – Span, Revere, Mauer, Willingham, Morneau, Plouffe, and Doumit – could be the strongest top to bottom 1-7 in the AL Central (though none of them are Fielder, Cabrera, Konerko, or Dunn). Throw in the sporadic success of Dozier and Carroll and I don’t think there’s any question that the Twins lineup is among the deepest in baseball top to bottom. Its main problems are lack of a consistent, raw power hitter and poor performance in clutch situations.

Our bullpen is overworked and, considering that, relatively underpaid (but don’t be afraid). Matt Capps is better than he was last year which is nice but certainly isn’t saying much. I’m interested in seeing how many more times Ron Gardenhire will send him out during tie games considering that he’s single-handedly lost the game 4 out of 5 times he’s been put in that situation (something he’d never do with that horse guy…uh, Joe Nathan). Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Jared Burton, and Alex Burnett have all been solid, especially considering how overworked they are. Swarzak is an admirable workhorse and the two mediocre Jeffs – my boy (who da) Manship and Gray – are serviceable for the back-end of the bullpen.

Former Twin R.A. Dickey is 11-1 with a 2.00 E.R.A. and has more strikeouts than all the Twins starting pitchers combined for the New York Mets.

This leaves the biggest weakness of the team – starting pitching. In my article about the Twins offseason transactions I failed to mention that, while overall they did a pretty good job, they failed to address this, their number one issue. They picked up bust Jason Marquis but didn’t make any move for a really solid arm. What we were left with, then, was old and now injured Carl Pavano, injured and ill-treated Scott Baker, sporadically successful not-so-sinker baller Nick Blackburn, and a myriad of minor league starting talent including P.J. Walters, Scott Diamond, Anthony Swarzak, Cole De Vries, and I’m sure eventually Jeff Manship. Pitchers are expensive and the Twins can’t really afford them if they want to actually keep their payroll low enough to continue being a profitable organization. This sad fact is what will most likely keep the Twins out of serious contention unless they’re able to cultivate some arms in their farm system (or they just get lucky).

All in all I’d like to think that most people didn’t think the Twins would be doing too much better than they are. I had hopes that they’d be a little better but knew that the possibility laid solely on the success of starting pitching. I’m excited at the prospect of the Twins doing some trading around the time of the deadline to get some prospects for the future.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.