I have waited a few days to let my thoughts get focused and my emotions settle down before composing this note to the NCAA and those that are in charge of the Women’s College World Series. And before you Pac-10 fans start throwing rocks let me start by congratulating the Arizona State Sun Devils for winning the series. They made all the plays and hit every pitch that stayed over the plate too long and were the better team in the championship series. My beef is not with them or even with the Pac-10. I am just going to state the facts from my seat, call them the way I see them, the same thing that was told to us about the expectations of the umpires at the WCWS.
This is my third time to go to Oklahoma City having missed last year’s Gators run so all I have to go by is what I saw on TV that year. The emphasis on the illegal pitches seemed to focus on two teams, one just happened to be us. Our pitcher was told to basically shut up because “she had been dirty all year” when she asked what she was doing. That’s a professional answer from an umpire don’t you think? While UCLA pounded us, you can’t help but wonder if that kind of scrutiny affects the concentration of your pitcher. It did with the other team as well as they were sent to the losers’ bracket in the first game too.
Two years ago, Florida faced Washington in the final series. In the opening game, the Washington pitcher was consistently given three to six inches off the corners and a rather liberal strike zone up and down. She is an excellent pitcher and made full use of that to keep our hitters in check. On the other side, Stacey Nelson, an All-American herself did not have those same pitches called for strikes. Forced to throw more over the plate or walk batters, she gave up more runs in that series than she did the entire tournament to make it to the Championship. Florida lost the next night three to two with a different umpire behind the plate and watched as Washington held up the trophy.
This year, we faced the #1 seed ASU on Friday and had an umpire behind the plate that didn’t call one drop ball a strike and issued eight walks to ASU batters from Hannah Rogers. That marked a career high for the freshman pitcher. She had two more batters struck out in the decisive seventh inning that were not called by Chris Drumm which directly led to the game winning hit with the bases loaded. She missed a lot of calls but even the fans without a team playing were telling Gator fans how she was biased since we got 4 bad calls to every 1 called against ASU. This is the same umpire who had already missed a foul ball call, a missed call on a tag at third, two illegal pitches and a leaving early call against the Gators in previous games on the bases.
Florida battles back through the losers’ bracket to face ASU again in the championship series on Monday night. Imagine the shock to our team and our fans when we discover that Chris Drumm is behind the plate again. She draws the home plate gig for the biggest game of the year despite both coaches giving negative reviews of her performance on Friday night and Missouri fans reportedly chasing her down as she left the field because they felt cheated in Saturday’s 13 inning marathon game against Baylor. I knew that we had no chance of beating ASU in that game before it ever began and told that to an usher at the stadium. We had to play a great game to beat ASU and with a biased umpire running the game, we didn’t have enough to overcome both her bad calls and a great ASU team. The blown call in the first inning proved early that my fears would come to pass. When you are forced by the umpire to throw pitches up and over the plate against a talented hitting team like ASU, you are going to get hurt and we did. Batters at this level are not going to miss many down the middle and they didn’t. Would we have won without her behind the plate? We will never know, but I do think the outcome would have been different.
It seems that every time a team from the east comes to the WCWS and plays a Pac-10 team there is a bias that you have to overcome. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but after three trips and a lot of money spent, I have seen it and believe it to be true. It’s not that the Pac-10 teams need help. They are always some of the best in the country. It’s just that this group of Gator Seniors went 16-8 against the Pac-10 in their careers. This year they were 5-1 coming into the WCWS against the Pac-10 including beating UCLA in the regional and Oregon in the Super Regionals. They also beat ASU in the Supers last year and Cal the two previous years to reach the WCWS. So on a neutral field or home field, they have done well. But in the championship series they are 0-4. So outside of OKC they have had a pretty good run against the strongest conference in NCAA Softball. They haven’t played the doormats of the conference either to pad those stats.
The problem I have with the NCAA is that the two times we have played for the championship we have had an umpire behind the plate that is at best incompetent and at worst outright biased. This year it was even worse than two years ago. From what the NCAA has said publicly and to us fans who were there, Chris Drumm is one of the best six umpires in the land. That leads me to only one conclusion if they are right; her west coast bias came out a little more than she wanted. If she was incompetent, then shame on the NCAA and those responsible for the tournament for putting her in the most prominent spotlight to show off that incompetence.
In the end, ASU may have beaten Florida with robots calling the strikes and balls, but the fact that those who were there and those who watched on ESPN had more to say about the way the game was umpired than the way it was played by two of the best teams in the country is what needs to be addressed. There was no way that she should have been allowed back on the field to call any part of that series after what happened Friday night and the reviews. Those who watched knew it, those who played knew it, those who coached knew it, and those who paid to get into the stadium certainly knew it. Why didn’t the officials of the NCAA know it? And why didn't they do anything to stop it from happening again?