The Perspective Paradox

When the game is close, the bottom of the ninth inning is unlike anything in sports.  You could miss the whole game, but catch the full game’s worth of drama in the ninth inning.  This is why I chided my roommates when I walked into the living room and saw they were watching a movie instead of the final inning of game three of the World Series, between the Red Sox and the Cardinals.

“The game is tied and anything can happen,” I predicted.  Begrudgingly they handed over the remote and I flipped to the game.  I ended up being right, “anything” did happen.

In this ninth inning, “anything” turned out to be one of the craziest finishes to a World Series game ever.  With one out, the Cardinals were looking to break the deadlock with runners on second and third.  A wild play ensued, in which there was a tag out at home, an errant throw to third base and a winning run — scored due to an obstruction call on Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks (if you haven’t seen the play it is definitely worth looking up on YouTube). Boston managers and players immediately began protesting the obstruction call while in the background the St. Louis players jubilantly celebrated the thrilling victory.

The umpires made a subjective call on the obstruction while attempting to interpret an objective rule. Whether or not they were right seemed irrelevant to the teams and fans, who took sides immediately based on which call favored their team. I find this dynamic interesting, as it seems to be universal across sports and life. Nobody on either side even pretended to be unbiased. If the call doesn’t favor your team it is a bad call, if it does favor your team, then it is good. Your perspective automatically skews your point of view.  Because of this, the official or referee automatically becomes the easiest person to blame.

This dynamic is at play even in our own backyard. In every Bobcat football game I have ever attended, the fans (mostly students) will boo every time the Cats are flagged. It does not matter whether the call was right or not, it could be the most obvious and blatant pass interference call ever, and the fans will still boo.

Now I am not dogging on our beloved Cats, (we are currently the fourth least penalized team in our conference) or our beloved fans. This phenomenon happens everywhere.  Fans’ views of whether or not a foul should be called tends to be extremely skewed and biased most of the time.  Ask a 49ers fan if there should have been a flag on the fourth and goal play in last year’s Super Bowl and they would say yes. Ask a Ravens fan the same question and they would tell you it was a good no-call. Here lies the paradox: I cannot blame either fan for feeling the way they do about that play.

Ultimately these are the reasons we appoint officials, umpires and judges in the first place.  The most well-defined rules are not necessarily easy to interpret or enforce. Officials are human and make mistakes, but as a fan I want to tend toward giving them the benefit of the doubt more often. I hope most officials are impartial and their number one concern is making a fair call.

It may be are hard pill to swallow for 49er and Red Sox fans, but the calls made in those two particular instances I referenced were probably fair and correct.  And while ideally we would all rather not have the final play of a game come down to a difficult and subjective call, trusting the imperfect system of appointed human referees is the best way to handle most situations.  After all, “anything” will always happen.