Thursday, June 7, 2012

Papelbon to Grandy: The Psychology of Blaming Umpires

Blaming umpires: It's what Jonathan Papelbon, Curtis Granderson and even Tim Duncan (with referees, of course) have in common. From a 1,800-year-old gladiator's tombstone that blames his death during battle on a referee's mistake to tennis' John McEnroe's career of childish temper tantrums, scapegoating appears especially en vogue these days, what with instant replay and video evidence easily manipulated in the whistle sports and the bulky graphics of K-Zone and FoxTrax given too much credit in the bat & ball sports—indeed, Beth Mowens and the ESPN crew used K-Zone for the NCAA Softball World Series, even though the technology is not meant for stadiums without triangulated systems (three cameras, as in MLB ballparks).

Distortion is demonstrated by former Red Sox manager
Terry Francona. The quality of inside/outside pitch location
 is not truly apparent from the team dugout, yet Francona is
adamant a called strike was significantly outside.
We've seen Rick Pitino escape into victim mentality: "I have a problem with the officials ... [they] are really starting to get under my nerves. I don't know who the hell they think they are. The level of arrogance, I just cannot believe it."

Serena Williams allegedly threatened to maim or even kill a lineswoman by shoving a ball down her throat after the official correctly called Williams for a foot fault. Williams also blamed a chair umpire when she correctly enforced a rule Williams had violated.

Fast forward to Monday and Papelbon's defeat at the hands of the LA Dodgers and a Dee Gordon triple, the scapegoating was back: "I thought [home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn] was terrible."

The psychology of blaming umpires, referees and others references classic Freudian defense mechanisms, unconscious strategies employed to cope with reality and to maintain self-image. The following are a few instances of the psychology involved in poor sportsmanship, the defense mechanisms behind this behavior:

Splitting: A primitive & pathological defense, "I thought [Reyburn] was terrible" and other statements that bash officials as a group is a perfect example of splitting negative and positive impulses.

Projection: An immature defense and a primitive form of paranoia, blaming others for self-failure and shifting responsibility or guilt because one cannot cope with admitting personal faults are classic symptoms. Coaches (Pitino) often employ this mechanism to shift blame from themselves, especially when their job is at risk due to poor performance.

Rationalization: The neurotic tendency to justify questionable or puerile behavior by making excuses defines this defense mechanism. In blaming Reyburn and crew chief Derryl Cousins for not letting him ask "a question," Papelbon shifts the blame to others, exemplifying victim mentality while justifying (to himself) childish behavior.

Denial / Distortion: Two birds with one stone, denial and distortion are both pathological defense mechanisms: Denial is a refusal to accept reality while distortion is a gross reshaping of external reality. Papelbon claimed Reyburn was awful during his outing, yet Reyburn only saw three callable pitches—of Papelbon's 17 pitches, the Dodgers swung at 14 of them. Reyburn was clearly correct in his ball calls on two of three pitches, while the third ball call was borderline (px of 0.809)—the UEFL would have bestowed a QOC of "correct" for this pitch because of that fact.

Acting Out: Categorized as an immature mechanism for a reason, acting out often manifests itself in throwing tantums or simply complaining about officiating after the fact: Yorvit Torrealba is a textbook example of a serial user of this defense mechanism that shares several attibutes with regression.

Passive Aggression: Another immature mechanism, Tim Duncan's recent claim that the Thunder "got every whistle possible"—other than being a clear distortion—is Duncan's passive aggressive way of accusing the officials of being one-sided. Short of directly calling them out, Duncan's passive aggressive quotes are just as effective, yet they come off every bit as whiny.

Altruism and Sublimation: Not every defense mechanism is negative—a select few mechanisms are categorized as "mature" and are commonly found in emotionally healthy adults. Among them are altruism and sublimation, though we often don't encounter athletes who exhibit either of these when it comes to an official's bad call. Enter Armando Galarraga & Jim Joyce: Galarraga couldn't have been a better sportsman in the wake of Joyce's admitted miss of a key 9th inning call, a "safe" that broke up a perfect game. From handing out an award on the ESPYs to penning a book, this duo demonstrated the positive side of defense mechanisms.

Nonetheless, while Galarraga-Joyce is nice to see, Papelbon/Torrealba remains the norm. Is it that athletes are immature, that emotions excuse decorum or that the pressure of millions of dollars is just too much to cope with? Then again, try explaining that millions-of-dollars argument to a parent on a Little League field.


Curt Crowley said...

What is the correct psychological term for when an authority figure who woefully lacks in physical stature mocks and baits a much larger "subordinate" to provoke a response (Scott Barry vs. Ryan Howard)? Is there a different psychological response at play when said authority figure stands there looking like he's going to wet his pants as 10 people try to hold the subordinate back?

What about when an authority figure encounters a visibly agitated and angry subordinate and responds with a smug little smirk to provoke a response (bob Davidson)?

Have you spent any time studying the various psychological, behavioral and personality disorders that afflict officiating's worst (attitude) offenders, or is it just players, managers and coaches that you psychoanalyze?

Big Marc said...

Curt do you enjoy the warmth of having your head up your ass, or do you use it as some type of unmentioned "defense mechanism"??

There were many subjects not covered in the article, among them would be the middle east, global warming, and umpire defense mechanisms.

Maybe you have some type of analysis that explains why umpires, or people who umpire act in a certain way when being yelled at.
Do you think maybe a "smirk" is some type of defense mechanism?
I'll stop with any legitimate points as your post has none.

LG said...

My comment is that why are we discussing what is part of the scene. Everyone listens to the spoiled athlete and writes about how they behave, good or bad. The official in the arena has nothing he can do about the bad behavior except accept and/or deal with it with a technical foul or an ejection.

Once that is how it is handled, there is nothing more the official can do except to write a report and let the league office deal with it.

Oh, for the good old days when the rules allowed the umpire to levy the fine for the bad behavior.

I guess that would be too much to ask for. Now, when the @#$% hits the fan, it ends up being the umpire/official that takes the heat for the bad call.

If sports imitate life, then you must remember, that life isn't fair and either is it fair that when an umpire/official makes a questionable call it might not be fair but sometimes the umpire/official has to live with that call anyway and so do the participants and fans.

Someone once taught me to play the game so as to overcome any adversity that might come your way in the game. So that is how I played the game and if I got out of line, the umpire or official had the authority (rightfully so by the rulebook to make a decision on my behalf) to allow me to stay in the game or show me the quickest exit possible.

As a player I was very intense but never so intense that I lost respect for an official. So, it is now that I say, that officials will always be the scapegoat in these situations and if they are going to be the scapegoats they also have the right and authority to send the manager, coach, player, etcetera on their way to the showers or whatever that league deems appropriate.

There is no difference today except that every move a player or offical takes is scrutinized by the media.

There will always be disagreements with officials and they will always be blamed for the call that is deemed the "worst call I have ever seen!"

So, let's not make a big deal out of this. It is what has always been. The coach, player and official start in an adversarial position and it is hard for any of these 3 to not react any different than they do now.

I never have taken it personal as a player, coach or as an umpire/official. Neither should any other player, coach or official.

Curt Crowley said...

Big Marc, if you can't see the relevance between the points I raised and the subject of the article, as well as the interplay between those subjects, then you are every bit the dim, simple-minded, boot-licking apologist that you consistently appear to be.

Now get out the Chapstick and get back to work. Those MLB umpire butts aren't gonna kiss themselves.

Anonymous said...

Curt, as usual you have nothing legitimate to add to the conversation. You were really good at your old job of being "just a fan," and I suggest you keep it that way. For the life of me I have no clue what you are doing on this site. Once again all I need to do is point out that you have no clue what actually happens on a baseball field. I hope my boy Brett has something to add to this conversation as well. -Same anon that will be up your ass on every dumbass post of yours. (SATWBUYAOEDPOY for short)

Curt Crowley said...

Anon 3:39, you are a cowardly anonymous guttersnipe. You want to call me out? Fine, but at least have the common decency to get your courage out of your mama's purse and put your name with your comments.

And, anonymous simpleton, you don't need to understand why I'm here. You don't like what I say? I don't care. You can't do anything about it, so sit and spin or write a letter to the editor or make fake ejection signals while you stare at yourself in the bathroom mirror or whatever it is you do to keep yourself occupied in situations you can't control.

Either way, anonymous yellow commenter, I will keep right on talking.

SJW said...

I have no desire to get sucked up in the heat of the past few comments and,frankly, can't find anything to disagree with in the article above.
I have never umpired/refereed and, unfortunately, in the past have felt free to verbally lambast those willing to do the job. I have diligently worked to correct that deficiency (and I do believe it is a deficiency until it is corrected. See above article.) This website, interestingly enough, is a pretty helpful part of my attempt to improve. Thank you for that.

The thing I struggle to understand is why the uniform resistance to even some transparency in accountability? In fact, it is amazing to me that the vast majority of voters in the poll above do not think bad calls merit punishment. I absolutely agree with that for isolated, occasional bad calls. But consistently bad calls have to merit some sort of consequence. The umpires' accuracy is the single most important thing they can provide.

Umpires/referees, I am genuinely trying to be your defender because I would not be willing to put myself in your place. I am grateful you are willing to do what you do. However, those two issues (transparency/accountability) still leave me wondering. Help me understand.

Anonymous said...

This Site is IN THE TANK for the fat blue brigade.

Tim Duncan. That's cute. If you spent a year getting abused by an egomaniacial tax-cheating tool like Joey Crawford you would have a bad view of referees too.

Sociopath: A convicted tax cheat that gets off enforcing his own view of acceptable conduct on other people.

Anonymous said...

Don't bring up Joey crawford's tax fraud conviction. Gil Imber wrote an article in march that took the convicted tax cheat's side over Tim Duncan. Crawford is a convicted liar and thief and Imber takes his side over Duncan.

Stay classy, felon lovers.

SJR said...

@LG: Thank you for your profound comments. It is rare, but always insightful, to hear from a person who has worn all 3 hats (player, coach, and official). I myself can profess to having only worn the official's hat.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Dale Scott had a terrible night behind the plate when Francona was arguing in that photo. It happens.

Anonymous said...

When its been a slow time for ejections, maybe we can just chill instead of putting out inane posts.

Brett said...

I think the biggest misunderstanding is that umpires/referees are an authority figure over players. That is not our job. I have authority over the game not the players or coaches. The rules give me latitude to disqualify players or coaches if the situation so warrants. Contrary to popular belief, these are not our favorite situations. As an official, the best nights at the park are when there is no unusual situation to deal with. I like when things are smooth. Many fans, players, and coaches fail to realize that I am not playing the game, therefore I cannot give up runs or points to the other team. I only do the job I am paid to do, arbitrate the close decisions in an objective manner and enforce the rules. The game is so nuanced that most do not understand the intricacies. Humans make errors, but until they create a robot to call the plays, someone has to do it. And before anyone says they could call balls and strikes with a machine, just remember that your favorite overpaid, under-performing player would have nobody to blame when he sucks. Don;t think it would work to well, especially if the superstars quit getting the benefit of the doubt.

As for @Curt Crowley, say what you might but it is obvious that you only like to fuel the fire on any subject. Part of being an official is no longer being a die-hard fan. It has been the best of both worlds for me. I still get to be part of a game I love and I get paid to do it, even though I would do it for free.

@Anon. Love the acronym. As always, pleasure reading your post. Should start signing your name so I can identify more of your posts. Thanks for the support as always.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what's up with Manny Gonzalez (HP), Mike Estabrook (3B) and Vic Carapazza (1B) all working on the same crew tonight in Chicago?

Jimmy Jack said...

Could we get a new tag for these types of posts, perhaps "Minimum IQ Requirement: 120"? I love the content, just some of the comments seem so far off-base. BTW, it looks like the Davidson smirk would be regressive, other baiting is an attempt at distortion, possibly even reaction formation if a call is especially contentious.

Anonymous said...

@anon 8:21- It was Jim Reynolds, not Manny Gonzalez behind the plate in Chicago. Estabrook and Carapazza are fillingin for Hoye and Dimuro on Joyce's crew. Not sure where Hoye is (he has only been out since Tuesday), but Dimuro has been missing since late April.

Anonymous said...

Brett, glad you decided to post on the subject. I wish I could share my name, and while you will probably be able to figure out why, Curt, on the other hand, will continue to have no clue and resort to name calling... again.

I think you summed it up well in your second paragraph Curt: "You don't like what I say? I don't care. You can't do anything about it..." Pretty common words of those type of people who have no clue about the subject they are commenting on, but decide to get in heated discussions about it anyways on the internet. Go ahead, keep on talking. I don't really care, I just said that I don't understand it given your clear lack of knowledge about... well... anything you've commented on. Please though, continue... I actually look forward to my laugh (or two) of the day. What verbal diarrhea do you have for us next? -SATWBUYAOEDPOY

Big Marc said...


You really think you had some valid points, huh?

The UEFL writes an article, and breaks down the different tantrums the players go into, with a medical explanation.

And you make a point about some umpire looked like he was going to piss his pants.

And I'm the dumb one? Ok.

Your wit is only surpassed by your knowledge of MLB umpiring.

Big Marc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Marc said...

You know curt,

I know you hate umpires, that's you right. You find fault with them everytime you see one, and I understand.

But what is really going here is:

It's not the Umpire's inadequacy's that your having trouble dealing with.

I think if you look in the mirror........

It's your own personal inadequacy's that are the issue.

Pete said...



Curt Crowley said...

Really, big Marc? You *know* that I hate umpires? Interesting.

I have read enough of your comments to deduce that your arrogance and unwavering belief in your own superiority and greatness causes you to confuse your assumptions with actual facts.

Your inability to *ever* admit that an umpire *ever* acts inappropriately makes you a dishonest apologist.

Despite your erroneous assumption, I happen to hold umpires in high regard. There are 80+ active umpires. Less than 10% of them are knuckleheads. The other 90+% are good people and the best in the world at their jobs. The problem is that great, level-headed umpires make far fewer headlines. No one writes a story when Jim Joyce bends over backwards to *not* toss someone. Or when Alan Porter hears BS from the dugout and *doesn't* run over and escalate the argument.

Your problem is that you interpret criticism of one umpire as an assault on every umpire. It is that narrow thinking that keeps the ill-tempered knuckleheads in the profession, and causes the public to doubt the umpiring profession's ability to police itself.

Yes, I took exception to this article because it is inherently unfair. It seems ridiculous to do a drive-by psych eval on players and managers, without also addressing the anger and emotional control issues from the umpires that contributed to these incidents.

I probably shouldn't have cited Scott Barry by name, but it was the most blatant example I could recall when I posted that comment.

Nate said...

Curt, Marc, Anonymous 1-38, et. al.

You both make decent points. Perhaps if all of us made our points minus the rhetoric this comment section would be more discussion and less of another psych case study.

UmpsRule said...

Curt Crowley brought up an interesting point about how great umpires make fewer headlines. They always say that you know an umpire is doing a good job when you never hear about him. Of course, that's inherently unfair. A lot of people talk about how bad the umpiring is and highlight examples of poor officiating, yet they don't focus on all of the good calls that are made. The fact is that umpires are much better than they are perceived to be and this would be much more apparent if they weren't often deprived of credit for doing a good job.

Anonymous said...

Kicked rule? Does this qualfy for a caseplay:

Anonymous said...

You mean it should be headlines for doing their job? I don't see my name in lights for "doing my job."

Anonymous said...

Fact check: Serena Williams did not threaten to kill the official. She said 'you are lucky I'm not shoving this ball down your throat' and walked off. The official reported to the chair that she 'threatened to kill me.' Serena was disqualified based on this false statement.

Mics and witnesses seated directly behind the official verified what Serena actually said.

Serena should have been penalized for what she did. There wasn't a penalty for the official that lied to the chair.

UmpsRule said...

@ Anon 8:41

When we only focus on the umpiring miscues, it makes the overall quality look far worse than it really is.

Nate said...

@8:39 That's not a kicked rule. He just didn't see what he thought he did.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
UmpsRule said...

@ Anon 1:08

Now that's a solution! I don't like what I perceive as the umpire's bad attitude, so I'm going to have an even worse attitude! That will really solve the problem! I've got to hand it to you, that's just pure genius!

Lindsay said...

I've added a Case Play in the spirit of the Atlanta-Miami play, but it is slightly different: Case Plays: Ball Hits Bat Twice (Part 2).

Brett said...

After watching the video of the Youkillis getting dumped, if we punish umpire's for missing calls we must also punish players and managers for arguing correct calls. Automatic 5 game suspensions for managers and 10 game suspensions for players. No appeals as we have video evidence that calls were correct. That seems fair to me. still baffles me that the worlds greatest players only succeed 30% of the time and make millions of dollars and the MLB umpires who are correct More than 99% of the time, do not even make what the worst MLB player does. we put players on pedestals and allow them to disrespect game because they think they are all knowing. crazy if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

So Brett, what do umpires get suspended for? I see you didn't list that?

Big Marc said...


Let's be clear, you were the 1st post. Your 1st line was basically a fat umpire, and you had him baiting a player.

Your last post was valid, as far as the article being one sided. However, that's my point to you in my 1st post. The article was about the players, but you felt the need to basically say, "Hey, way a minute what about them"? (umpires). To be clear, my point at the begining was you were off topic, that simple.

To me, your a fan 1st. You may enjoy some of the umpires, you may understand some things about umpires. But what you are missing is the actual feeling of being in situations.

Curt you are confusing being pro umpire with covering up for umpires. 2 different things all together. I never cover-up for umpires, it's just that if I see no malice, or no negligence, I can understand how calls are missed.
You have some other valid points, but they become lost when you say words like, 10% of MLB umpires are knuckleheads. Do you really believe that?
Or you challenge a MLB umpires appearence.

Lastly, why the personal attacks? Your last post had a nice little quip, it wasn't personal and you had to think about the "dig" you were making on me, well done.
Stop with the name calling, make your point already.

How about this from now on, everyone knows your feelings about me, no need to call me names anymore, everyone can just know from here on out I'm an umpire kiss ass.

So stay on topic, if it's about butterflies, don't chime in and say , "what about the lady bugs".

Nate, I hope you enjoyed that post more.

Argueing gives people a funny feeling inside. As umpires it's a feeling we get used to. Sometimes we enjoy it.
Being passionate about anything makes life more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Everytime there's a no hitter or perfect game, brian runge is behind the plate.

Brett said...

Bob Davidson got suspended a few weeks ago for using profanity, so I think Youkillis you get suspended for his profanity usage toward Doug Eddings last night. My point was I think it is asinine to think that umpires should be suspended for missing calls, kinda like suspending players for making an out with bases loaded. Umpires are human, they do not want to miss calls. I hate the way everyone worships these players and we should just lay down to them and give them what they want.

Anonymous said...

Brett, the Davidson one-game suspension was for *multiple* violations of baseball's guidelines for situation handling. He screwed up *multiple* times and only got suspended *once*. Here, Youkilis has used profanity on just one occasion. If you want to apply the same standards of discipline to players and umpires, then you need to let Youkilis have several more tantrums before you even consider suspending him. Fair is fair, right?

UmpsRule said...

@ Anon 11:06

I don't know what Brett would say, but I strongly oppose the notion that players and umpires should face the same standards of discipline. They are not equals, the umpires are the ones in charge and therefore should not be placed on the same level as the players.

Anonymous said...

Joe West, Angel Campos, Bob davison, Rob Drake, that's a tough crew

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