THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Trying blind: Blown calls cloud division series

Decisions, decisions– Cuzzi in action.
Flickr/afagen (Adam Fagen)

Last weekend, I went to the Italian Street Festival in Richmond– a bunch of plastic tents at the Raceway Complex that didn't resemble Italy in any way. Not only was the search for gelato fruitless, the mournful and sometimes off-key crooning of Tony Reno followed us everywhere. Have you ever listened to "My Way" three times in a half hour period? Believe me, you'll know all about bad mistakes.

Of course, I didn't need Tony Reno to tell me about it; I'd seen enough bad mistakes during both the AL and NLDS to last a lifetime.  That absurdly incompetent umpires have plagued both Division Series is absolutely indisputable- the question is– why isn't anyone doing anything about it?

When first base umpire C.B. Bucknor blew two easy calls during Game 1 of the ALDS between the Angels and the Red Sox, his presence in the series should have been immediately re-evaluated. This is the Major League postseason, not opening day of Little League. If a first base umpire can't keep his eye on two things at once, he need not be an umpire at all. 

In case you missed it, Sports Illustrated's 2003 and 2006 Worst Umpire of the Year spent the majority of Game 1 sacrificing the Red Sox for a shot at a third title. I'm far from a Boston homer, but even intense dislike of Red Sox didn't blind me to the fact that Kevin Youkilis had Angel Howie Kendrick out by at least a half step during the fourth inning. (The throw from Boston shortstop Alex Gonzalez was high and wide, but I failed to realize an errant throw automatically results in a batter's taking a base. Maybe I'm missing something.)

Evidently, I continued to miss something in the bottom of the sixth. As if to cement his position atop SI's 2009 list and win himself a new best friend in the process, Bucknor again threw the Red Sox to the wolves, again to Howie Kendrick's benefit. When Youkilis caught third baseman Mike Lowell's throw to first, Kendrick was at least a foot and a half away from the bag. 

Without a moment's hesitation, Bucknor called him safe. Two ruthlessly blown calls in one night: it's enough to make one wonder how Bucknor made it through the regular season. Still, as ludicrous as Bucknor's mistakes were, they were positively mercurial in comparison to umpire Phil Cuzzi's whopper.

If you caught the Yankees/Twins game last Friday night, I need to write no further. You already know the incident to which I refer, and even if you hate the Twins, you might have shed a silent tear on their behalf. The injustice that befell them was untenable and inexcusable. It was a travesty. It was...well, you'll see.

Some people say that a bad call is a gift to the opposition, no matter how flagrantly incorrect. It is not the responsibility of the opposing team to argue a call that gives them an advantage; in fact, it would be lunacy. But when Joe Mauer's drive brushed the glove of Yankee Melky Cabrera then fell to the ground well in fair territory before bouncing into the stands, what would you have done if the flagrantly incorrect line umpire called it foul? If you were Melky Cabrera, what would you have done?

Melky kept his mouth shut, as I suppose any manager would have wanted his player to do. Sure, he looked a bit idiotic swallowing that call, but he would have been in hot water had he said anything. It was the top of the eleventh, and the Twins had been more trouble than the Yankees had anticipated. At the rate the game was going, the teams could have played into the wee morning hours without either besting the other. Sooner or later something had to give; and, unfortunately, it was Phil Cuzzi who gave it.

Both Division Series are over now, with sweeps everywhere but Colorado. Bucknor may not be responsible for Boston's humiliating defeat, but his two major errors certainly contributed to their going home. One blown call doesn't a sweep make, but Phil Cuzzi robbed the Twins of a ground rule double that in all probability would have kept the Twins from being swept. As well meaning as they may have been, both men changed the course of the playoffs with their egregious mistakes and they should be reprimanded.

But who will do it? There are no stats for umpires, and players and managers can't risk much heated debate. Someone in a fancy office somewhere needs to take this in hand before the AL and NLCS and put Bucknor and Cuzzi on the bench. Not to do so would be the worst mistake of all. 


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.


1 comment

re:"Phil Cuzzi robbed the Twins of a ground rule double that in all probability would have kept the Twins from being swept"

This ignores everything that happened after the blown call. Mauer got a single after the foul ball and wound up on third base with zero outs. Yes, IF he started on second then PROBABLY he would have scored IF two singles followed. But the twins 3b coach held him at third after the second single with no outs.

But even then, Teixiera WOULD HAVE tied it in the bottom frame.

Yes, MAYBE Tex doesn't tie it because he presses down by a run. But maybe the Yankees pitcher bears down with a man on second and no outs. If you are going to assume that Mauer is going to score the fourth run, then you have to assume that the Yanks do too.

So it's unfair to say that the ump cost the Twins that game. Mauer was on THIRD BASE with NO OUTS and the twins could not get him home. Your analysis assumes that if he started on SECOND base with no outs, they could have.