There is no group of people in sports who are less appreciated than referees, but sometimes they are actually terrible. From blown calls to non calls and every error in between, referees are like athletes — they are given a performance review that is exposed to the world every day. I’m sure everybody’s job is difficult but there’s no greater public bashing than referees in professional sports. Former MLB umpire Don Denkinger called the Royals’ Jorge Orta safe during the 1985 World Series despite obvious replay showing he was out. The game was tied 1-1 in Game 6 but poor officiating gave Kansas City a drive and they went on to win 2-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite nearly two decades of work, Denkinger will be best remembered for this one blown call.
Really, a good way to know if an official is doing their job is by how many people know their name. Referees and umpires seek anonymity in their day-to-day jobs because it generally means you got the right call. International Tennis Federation chair umpire Mariana Alves was virtually unknown prior to the 2004 U.S. Open but quickly made a name for herself after one completely blown call and several other questionable calls that helped Jennifer Capriati advance to the semi-finals over third-seeded, Serena Williams. The USTA publicly acknowledged the controversy and did not allow Alves to officiate any further matches of the 2004 U.S. Open. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
From NFL referee Phil Luckett’s simple but costly coin toss blunder to former NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s resignation amid allegations of betting on games he had officiated, sports officials are no strangers to scandal. But looking at current officials in professional sports, sometimes a personal vendetta goes completely unnoticed and sometimes an honest mistake comes at a critical time. When Jim Joyce took a perfect game away from former Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga in 2010, the entire baseball community was in uproar. Even though the call was absolutely terrible, the class both Joyce and Galaragga displayed during the aftermath of the game was honorable. Whether an honest mistake or a deliberate error, officials make or break the game and often have to carry the criticism through the rest of their careers. Considering intention, resources, history and timing, here are 10 of the most hated sports officials today.
10. Rob Martell – NHL
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rob Martell made his officiating debut in 1996. According to the NHL Officials Association, Martell has never officiated a single playoff game during his entire 18-year career. Recently, Martell has been involved in some questionable calls including a goal called off for interference during a Kings-Ducks game in March this year. Even worse, Martell was part of the crew that officiated a Kings-Red Wings game in January where both referees and linesmen lost sight of the puck when it was deflected up into the air and hit Los Angeles’ goalie, Jonathan Quick in the back before falling into the net. Apparently, nobody was looking for the puck, nobody noticed that it went in off of Quick’s back or bothered to check the rule book that states a play must be blown dead if the officials have lost sight of the puck. Rules were meant to be broken, right?
9. Christina Pedersen – FIFA
Norwegian referee, Christina Pedersen, officiated the women’s Olympic soccer semi-final game between Canada and the United States of America during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The infamous game held at Old Trafford stadium was arguably the best women’s soccer face-off ever. After Canadian team captain, Christine Sinclair scored her third goal to give Canada the lead, it went downhill. Up 3-2, Canadian goalkeeper, Erin McLeod was called on a controversial violation of the six-second rule that gave USA a free kick. The ball then hit a Canadian defender in the wall, so Pedersen called a handball. This gave USA forward, Abby Wambach, a penalty shot and they tied the game. Unfortunately, Pedersen had missed a deliberate hand ball by American Megan Rapinoe a few minutes before. Pedersen made one more questionable call in extra time that put Team Canada over the edge just before American Alex Morgan put the game away as USA advanced to the finals against Japan. Everybody was talking about this game afterwards and Christine Sinclair was actually fined and suspended by FIFA for her comments about terrible officiating.
8. Tim Peel – NHL
Despite being arguably the worst referee in the best-officiated league, Tim Peel was still selected to join the officiating crew in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. During a Ducks-Hurricanes match-ups in February of 2012, Peel made quite possibly the worst call of the season when he failed to penalize Anaheim’s Corey Perry for blatantly tripping Carolina’s Jussi Jokinen deep in the Hurricanes’ zone. Six seconds later, Perry put away the game-winning goal. In 2013, Peel made three terrible calls during the span of 5 days during Colorado-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Columbus and Vancouver-Minnesota games, respectively. And that’s just the beginning of Tim Peel’s questionable career.
7. Angel Hernandez – MLB
Angel Hernandez made his debut as a Major League umpire in 1991 and has been involved in several incidents with players and coaches throughout his 25-year career. According to ESPN, Hernandez is consistently voted around the league in the top 5 worst Major League umpires but continues to officiate big games. Hernandez has faced off with Terry Francona, Joe Maddon and Bob Melvin. According to Dallas News, Hernandez has had three challenges with the new instant replay system in affect; one was confirmed while two other calls were overturned from the original play. At least he’s consistently bad.
6. Jeff Triplette – NFL
Jeff Triplette’s poor reputation first started from one of the most bizarre plays in the history of the NFL. In December 1999, Triplette was part of the crew officiating a game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns. According to ESPN, Triplette threw a penalty flag, which was weighed down with ball bearings, that accidentally hit a Browns’ player, Orlando Brown, right in the eye. Despite apologizing for the accident, Brown was irate and sued the NFL years later claiming that the injury had cut his career short.
Most recently, Triplette was responsible for the 1st down-3rd down kerfuffle during a Week 13 match-up between NFC East rivals, the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. With less than 2 minutes to go, the officials botched the game by giving the Redskins a first down only to take it back two plays later making it 4th down with no review or timeouts. The Giants won 24-17 and the league later acknowledged the error.
5. Joe West – MLB
Joe West’s 38-year career makes him the senior umpire among all active umpires. In 1983, West was famously involved in a shoving incident with then Atlanta Braves’ manager, Joe Torre. But more recently, he viciously criticized the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees collectively for playing too slow in April 2010, citing a “disgrace to baseball.” West’s presence on our list is controversial in and of itself as he is most likely headed for the Hall of Fame and is notorious for a consistent strike zone. But, for whatever reason, multiple player polls from ESPN find Joe West rank him as one of the worst umpires.
4. Bennett Salvatore – NBA
Bennett Salvatore is one of the best-known and most controversial officials in professional sports. Salvatore is the man behind Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban‘s greatest public meltdowns (of which there are a few) ever. According to ESPN, Salvatore made a questionable call against Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals that had a great impact on the game which Dallas lost by one point in overtime. He’s also behind the 2006 game-changing play involving Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers. Most recently, the controversy in the 2014 NBA Playoffs surrounding the end of OKC’s Game 5 win over the LA Clippers is hovering over Salvatore’s head, along with his questionable colleague, Tony Brothers. With the help of the officials, OKC went up in the series 3-2.
3. C.B. Bucknor – MLB
C.B. Bucknor hasn’t had a great start to his 15th season as a Major League Umpire. According to the Dallas News, C.B. Bucknor has faced three challenges so far this season and only one of them was confirmed. Although the entire league is taking heat for the new system, Bucknor made some controversial calls long before the replay challenges came into affect. One of the worst reputations an umpire can get in Major League Baseball is an inconsistent strike zone and Bucknor is the worst. There have been several incidents where Bucknor has prematurely punched-out batters which is so petty it makes you wonder how it happened. Although Bucknor has not made game or season-altering calls or faced suspension like Bob Davidson for repeated violations or Mike Winters for poor conduct in 2007, but he’s just consistently bad.
2. The “Replacement Refs” – NFL
In 2012, the National Football League entered a labor dispute with the NFL Referees Association that resulted in an officials lockout. For the first 3 weeks of the regular season, replacement referees from lower-ranked divisions and leagues were substituted to officiate while negotiations dragged on. From poor ball spots, terrible non-calls and the infamous “Fail Mary,” the 2012 NFL replacement refs go down as one big collective break down. In case the error here is unclear, the referee credited for calling the “Fail Mary” had been previously fired from the Lingerie Football League for incompetency.
1. Joey Crawford – NBA
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Joey Crawford became a referee in the NBA at the age of 65. Over the course of his 37-year career, Crawford has failed to meet the standards of professionalism on more than one occasion. According to the New York Times, Crawford said he actually broke a finger while emphatically signally a technical foul. Despite the National Basketball League stating in 2007 that Crawford was consistently rated as one of their top referees, he’s made more than a couple of questionable calls.
Most famously, Crawford inappropriately charged San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan with two technical fouls in a 2007 match-up against the Dallas Mavericks, ultimately ejecting Duncan from the game. Duncan claims Crawford challenged him to a fight during the game Crawford was later suspended for the remainder of the 2006-2007 season.