When sports officials make bad calls

By Fred Bowen
Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Wake up, ref. You're missing a good game."

At almost every sports event, whether it's a kids' game or the pros, somebody complains about the referee's or umpire's calls. Recently, a few calls in big games have upset a lot of people.

Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga almost became the 21st pitcher in the history of major league baseball to throw a perfect game. That's when a pitcher faces 27 batters in nine innings and gets them all out. No hits, no walks, no errors.

Galarraga had set down the first 26 Cleveland Indians batters. The 27th hit a ground ball, and Galarraga ran over to cover first base. But the first base umpire, Jim Joyce, said the runner had beaten Galarraga and the ball to first base and called the runner safe. Galarraga pitched to the next batter, the last of the game, and got him out.

After the game the umpire saw film of the play, and admitted he had made a mistake. The runner had been out. But the umpire's original call meant Galarraga lost his chance for a perfect game and a place in baseball history.

Last week, the United States played Slovenia in the World Cup soccer tournament. Slovenia jumped to a 2-0 lead at the half. The United States battled back to tie the score at 2-2. Late in the game, American forward Maurice Edu appeared to put his team ahead by volleying the ball into the back of the Slovenian net. But the referee, Koman Coulibaly from the African country of Mali, waved off the goal, calling a foul on the U.S. team.

I know close calls are frustrating. But there are things that kids and their parents should remember about the games we play and watch.

First, it is not easy to be a referee or an umpire. They have to make calls without any slow-motion instant replays. If all the fans who grumble about calls actually tried to be a referee or umpire, there might be fewer complaints.

Refereeing a World Cup soccer game reminds me of refereeing a basketball game for 8-year olds. If the referee called every foul, the players would hardly have a chance to play. I watched the replay of the controversial kick in the U.S.-Slovenia game, and it looked as if everyone was grabbing and pushing near the goal. The referee could have called 10 fouls!

Finally, players often are more understanding about close calls than fans are. The U.S soccer team didn't let tough calls stop them. They played harder and yesterday won a dramatic 1-0 game against Algeria.

And despite losing a chance at a perfect game, at the start of the next game, Galarraga shook the umpire's hand. He understood that everyone in sports -- players, coaches and umpires -- makes mistakes.

Close calls, and even bad calls, are part of the game. Nobody's perfect. But Armando Galarraga was perfect for 28 straight batters.

Fred Bowen is the author of 14 sports books for kids, including "Soccer Team Upset" and "Dugout Rivals."

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