While I'm sure that Dr. Guy and other Mets fans enjoyed the results of the game last evening (August 18, 2007) against my beloved Nationals, there were enough questionable calls made in that game to remind me of the news that followed the breaking news story about disgraced NBA referee Tim Donagy and the problems that MLB was having in getting the Umpires to cooperate on allowing background checks on all Umpires in the game.
Like most things labor related, at least when it comes to professional sports in the U.S.A., there are unions involved, or should I say a single union involved. The union for the Umpires basically tried to play hardball with MLB and demanded that MLB add an extra Umpire position for some of the playoff games that happen each year. MLB decried that request claiming -- and I think somewhat rightfully so -- that the Umpires union is trying to hold the integrity of the game hostage for financial reasons.
The stench that was created with the news on Donagy will leave many fans questioning the integrity of the officials of the games for some time to come. It really can't be helped as there are always questionable calls made along the way, some much more questionable than others, but worse still there are human beings with human failings making the calls.
Something that a friend that went with me to the game last night mentioned about all of this is the idea that Donagy had been providing 'insider information' about other game officials to his gambling friends/partners in crime. Not just news and information that might not have been known to the public about injuries, but scouting reports that told the gamblers he was working with that one referee may have had a personal axe to grind against a particular, or several particular players. Information that a particular referee was known to like to call charging fouls, or liked to call travelling violations, or other things that would help influence the way a game is played and how closely the referees call it. In effect, Donagy was making accomplices out of all of the referees on the court, whether they knew it or not, and whether they intentionally cooperated or not.
There will always be personalities involved in the officiating of games, and it's something I continue to wish could and would be minimized wherever possible. It is part of why I've railed for more help and/or automation of the calling of balls and strikes in baseball. Getting consistency, rather than the results of an individual's Umpires tendencies to call high or low, or even wide, strikes is something that the baseball gods should strive for. Getting the calls right, no matter how much it seems that any individual game doesn't matter, should be important to those that run the sport so they can assure the fans that pay to watch the sport that the sport is clean, and run as honestly and openly as possible.
The Umpires union should be villified for trying to hold the integrity of the game hostage. All of the people associated with the game should be checked and should be just as accountable as any employee that would be hired for any other job in the United States. Simple background checks, no matter how much some may feel are violations of individual rights of privacy, are not that intrusive and employers typically do have a right to know that the people working for them are persons of integrity. Knowing the warts that an individual has in advance helps keep those warts from being used to blackmail the individual later, and helps avoid the problems that came to the surface in the case of Tim Donagy.