Jim Joyce became the unhappiest kind of instant celebrity last month, when the umpire blew a call to ruin a perfect game by Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga. Both men gave a public lesson in grace and humility when Joyce admitted the mistake and Galarraga forgave him. Still, Joyce's blunder set a new standard for bad calls -- at least until the World Cup, when multiple officiating gaffes raised more noise than the vuvuzelas.
Those on-field calls dominated the highlight shows, but sports are affected just as significantly by the bad judgments -- and plentiful good ones -- that happen off the field every day. Here's how we'd rule on some recent newsmakers.
Good call: The federal judge who ruled that Quinnipiac University violated Title IX when it replaced volleyball with competitive cheerleading among its women's varsity sports offerings.
This is not an attack on cheerleading. Anyone who has attended a college football or basketball game has gasped at the athletic skill, strength and guts required to perform the acrobatic gymnastics of modern cheer teams. But at this point, it doesn't equal volleyball as a legitimate varsity sport.
Competitive cheerleading isn't sanctioned by the NCAA. Fewer than 10 schools offer it as a varsity sport. According to an article on ncaa.org, advocates of competitive cheer have expressed some interest to the organization's Committee on Women's Athletics about being classified as an "emerging sport," but not enough for the NCAA to even begin an evaluation.
By comparison, volleyball is a varsity sport at 328 Division I schools and ends each season with a vibrant and popular NCAA tournament. It seems clear that Quinnipiac was trying to do an end run around Title IX by dropping a major sport to save money, then replacing it with a low-budget alternative.
If there was any doubt the school acted in bad faith, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill also scolded it for manipulating roster numbers, with tricks that included counting those women who participated in indoor track, outdoor track and cross country as three athletes.
Bad call: Nick Saban likening some sports agents to pimps. After several college football players reportedly had contact with agents, in violation of NCAA rules, the Alabama football coach condemned the agents for their greed and asked, "How are they any better than a pimp?"
The implication seems to be that agents are using players to line their own pockets. Perhaps Saban should ask how that is any different than what he does. As a big-time college football coach, he is paid $4 million per year to win games and make big money for his university and conference. Saban and his brethren like to cloak themselves in high-minded ideals such as academic achievement and personal development, but the end game is to make sure your athletes keep the dollars rolling in.
Unethical agents should be called to account. But if Saban wants to play the greed card, the college football culture is just as culpable.
Players are old enough to know right from wrong and to understand NCAA rules. But they're also old enough to see everyone but themselves getting rich off their labor. Throw in the sense of entitlement the system has spawned, and lots of players will snap up whatever goodies the agents are dangling.
While Saban delivered the view from his high horse, Miami wide receiver LaRon Byrd summed it up in simple terms.
"I feel those guys are being selfish, not looking out for the team," he told the Associated Press.
"I would not put my teammates in danger, in jeopardy of losing games or damaging this program, because I want to be greedy and take gifts or take things." Score one, at least, for personal responsibility.
Good call: Andre Dawson addressing the steroid issue during his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday. Before a rapt crowd in Cooperstown, Dawson condemned the "stain on the game" and pleaded with young players not to be "lured to the dark side."
Too many players dance around baseball's drug problems, afraid of causing offense in a sport that doesn't like dissent or controversy. The easiest path is to not discuss troubles.
The bravest is to confront them, and Dawson did the game a service by giving a clear anti-steroid message in its most sacred forum.
Cooperstown will be ground zero for the discussion of performance-enhancing drugs for years to come, as confirmed or suspected steroid users force Hall of Fame voters to weigh morals as well as statistics. Dawson left no doubt about where he stood.
"It's definitely been damaging to the history of the game," he said. "If my mind doesn't escape me, integrity is a very important part of the game."
As much as baseball would like to ignore its drug problems, silence won't clean up the sport or restore public trust.
It will require people like Dawson to call it as they see it, without bias or agenda. Just like a good umpire.