THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
If you following the NFL, you may have heard about this little tidbit through the fall of 2017.
Following a victory (yes, a victory) by the Philadelphia Eagles, the fans in Philly were still not pleased with NFL referee Pete Morelli, whose crew had just penalized the Eagles a far significant amount over their opponent that evening, the Carolina Panthers. In fact, it was so much of a sin to some fans that an online petition was created.
Will Philbrick of Little Rock, AR, created an online petition at Change.org to ban Morelli and his crew from officiating Eagles games. Directly from the petition:
"NFL Referee Pete Morelli has a clear and statistically obvious bias against the Philadelphia Eagles. Over the last four games that he has officiated that the Eagles were playing in, the Eagles were flagged a total of 40 times for 396 yards, while the Eagles opponent in those games were flagged a mere 8 times for 74 yards. This is unacceptable and puts the Philadelphia Eagles at a disadvantage. Preventing Morelli from refereeing Eagles games will result in a more trustworthy and honest NFL. This will benefit the entire league and keep all claims of conspiracy to a normal level."
At the time of writing this post, the petition was signed by over 75,000 people.
Okay, you now have permission to take a few minutes to let all this sink in, followed by letting the rage stemming from the stupidity of this subside so you can think clearly.
Let's now go over every aspect of how dumb this is.
1. NFL officiating crews not only change from time to time, but Morelli's crew was completely different in this game following similar gripes in years past. So to say this is entirely Morelli's fault (or the fault of his crew) is to say that a large number of officials who have it out for the Eagles, not just Morelli. That seems absurd.
2. NFL officials are so highly trained and scrutinized that, unless there is some clear debacle at hand (like in the NBA with referees being paid off), claiming that there is a bias shows very little education for how the system works. All NFL officials are graded so stringently that to be this poor, as is being claimed, would mean these officials would not get postseason assignments or would be completely dismissed from officiating altogether. So unless there is a covert mission to infiltrate the professional officiating community by James Bond himself just to do this, followed by a complete extraction from the program after the mission is complete, it seems highly improbable that there is actually a bias.
3. The NFL has been plagued with scandals that are far worse than this throughout the course of this season. Not only is viewership down due to the National Anthem protests, but CTE and head trauma has forced people like me to turn the game off and find something better to do on Sundays. You can also point to domestic violence as an issue that continues to plague the league. No matter how you slice it, the issues that stem from the protests, CTE, and domestic violence are probably a bit more important than whether Pete Morelli's crew might have flagged your team for a call with which you may not have necessarily agreed.
4. Before the Eagles and their fans go pointing fingers at others, perhaps they should be looking in the mirror as a collective whole. I don't think I'm breaking new ground when I say that Philadelphia sports fans carry an unfortunate label as very poor sports. These are the same fans that booed Santa Claus and required a jail and judge placed in the bowels of their stadiums. I know we're casting a wide net in grouping all fans together, which is unfair because there are some Philadelphia fans that are decent; in fact, the same could be said about most fan bases in that the actions of a few should not represent the group as a whole. However, it seems fair to reference how Philly gets a worse reputation than most based on the frequency of incidents.
Now, let's consider some of the more specific points of this ridiculous case.
First, the fact that Change.org is programmed to follow the same bleeding-heart protocol and beg for my help as I scan the page for information makes me never want to sign a petition again...not that I was signing many in the first place. I know the site has to be fair to all users, but you'd think that someone at the company would look at this and say, "Really? Can we just delete this?"
Second, the fact that over 75,000 people actually think this is a real problem is a major indictment on our society. If there were 3,000 signatures, I'd just laugh it off. But 75,000? What are you people doing with your time? How about dedicating it to a cause that actually might make the world a better place, rather than take a stance against perceived poor officiating within entertainment?
Finally, do you really think that Roger Goodell cares about this? This is a man who has laughed in the face of serious issues plaguing his league due to the amount of money the sport makes and the amount of money that goes into his pocket. They don't care about this. They care more that you're just watching and playing into the plan that your eyeballs continue to see the advertisements that provide them with the infinite dollars that make them rich.
If you really wanted to take a stand, you'd turn off the game.
In a society where people are innocent until proven guilty, we must preface this story by stating that we cannot prove intent. The only judgment we can give is that from the court of public opinion, not one with any actual legal weight.
Last season, an incident occurred where MLB umpire Quinn Wolcott was hit with a fastball up around the head/neck area from Detroit Tigers pitcher Buck Farmer. The incident immediately followed Wolcott's ejection of both Tigers catcher James McCann and then manager Brad Ausmus over balls and strikes.
The problem wasn't just that Wolcott was hit, but that the immediate reaction was incredibly telling by the Tigers. As soon as Wolcott went down, Cleveland Indians batter Yandy Diaz was the only one to tend to Wolcott until base umpires Brian O'Nora and Paul Emmel made it to the plate at a dead sprint, meeting the Indians training staff at the same time.
Replacement catcher John Hicks and pitcher Buck Farmer paid zero attention to Wolcott.
The key to this incident is in Hicks' response. Catchers and umpires have a kinship because they both wear the gear behind the plate. They are both subject to the bumps and bruises of foul balls and other minor injuries throughout the course of a game. They work together to get strikes called for pitchers. Even though they're not on the same "team," per se, they are on the same team. When one goes down, the other tends to him.
So when Hicks immediately ignored Wolcott, that told you all you needed to know.
No postgame comments from anyone on the Tigers could sway the opinion otherwise. Following the incident with the Yankees earlier in the year, it was pretty clear that the 2017 Detroit Tigers were no longer playing for their late owner: they were in a selfish free fall that can best be described as unfortunate.
"You don't get in front of a man and his nachos."
That quote from Cubs shortstop Addison Russell summed up a fantastic scene at Busch Stadium toward the end of the 2017 MLB Regular Season.
During a game between the Cubs and the Cardinals, Russell ran towards the stands in an almost Derek-Jeter-like fashion to make a catch and fly into the seats. The problem? Russell fell into a Cardinals fan and his big tray of nachos. Andrew Gudermuth would forever be known as "Nachoman" following the incident as a result.
So what happened? Well, Russell didn't catch the foul ball...in fact, Jedd Gyorko finished the at-bat with a homer. But the staff at Busch stadium brought Gudermuth a complimentary new plate of loaded nachos for him to enjoy.
But it doesn't stop there.
Between innings, Russell ran out to Gudermuth with a tray of plain nachos (with cheese) in an act of contrition. He even posed for a few selfies with Gudermuth.
In a rivalry as tense as that between the Cubs and Cardinals, this is how you put things in perspective: by remembering that the fans are humans, and it's very easy to make new friends, even if they don't root for your team. I guarantee you that Gudermuth probably will never boo Russell again, nor will he think of the Cubs as a hated rival in the same way.
That's the power of nachos.
Here's a cute story from the end of the 2017 MLB Regular Season...
As the Yankees were facing the Twins with only a few games left in the regular season, the Bronx Bombers went on a torrid run to sweep the three game series and flex their muscles against the team they would eventually defeat in the American League Wild Card game. In one instance, Didi Gregorius came to the plate and drilled a home run into the right field seats.
But what happened as Didi swung? His bat drop hit catcher Jason Castro.
So what did Didi do? He turned and apologized to Jason before trotting around the bases!
Imagine if the ball hadn't gone out of the park. Imagine if Didi's actions were the difference between hitting a single and a double. That's still a pretty classy move. Cheers to Didi for doing what was right: apologizing for an accident and instinctively knowing that human decency is more important than a trip around the bases.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.