Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Worst Person in the World

I'm going to borrow the title of Keith (I'm an idiot) Olbermann's nightly award to discuss a softball coach named Jean Musgjerd of Rochester Community College.

Musgjerd's team was facing Central Lakes College of Brainerd last weekend in the Minnesota Junior College state tournament. CLC and RCC were having a great game that was scoreless going into the seventh inning. In fact, CLC's pitcher was throwing a no-hitter. She retired the Rochester team in the top of the seventh, and CLC came to bat in the bottom of the inning.
CLC's Ashly Erickson homered to give CLC an apparent 1-0 win. She rounded the bases, and several of her teammates lined up along the 3rd-base line to exchange high fives as she trotted home.

Then things got weird. Musgjerd complained to the umpires about Erickson's teammates congratulating her before she had touched home plate, which is a violation of NCAA rules. The umpires conferred, and declared Erickson out. The game went into extra innings, and RCC ended up winning 4-0 in nine innings.

Now, I have no problem with a coach using the rulebook to gain every possible advantage. It's a wise coach - or player - that knows the rules well and understands the finer points of the game. But what happened here is a travesty, and the blame can be shared by:

#1 Musgjerd, whose behavior is reprehensible.

#2 The umpires for not knowing the rule and then making a ridiculous decision

But Coach Musgjerd takes about 95% of the responsibility.

(As many of you know, I've been an NCAA and Minnesota State High School League baseball umpire for almost 30 years. That doesn't make me the ultimate authority, but I do have the perspective that one gets from working about 1,200 games over the years.)

It's true that the NCAA has a rule against touching a runner before the runner reaches home plate. But the rule also says "For a first offense, the umpire shall issue a warning to the offending team."

Musgjerd gave a very smug quote to a reporter, saying "I always have a rule book in my bag. You don't want to win in that way, but you have to play by the rules. You get schooled on the rulebook, and you find out really fast that you need to know it."

Except she either didn't really know the rule, or she quoted only part of it to gain an unfair advantage. She left out the part about issuing a warning, in an effort to try to take away the fairly-earned victory of her opponent. That's contemptible.

And while I hate to second-guess fellow umpires, their reaction seems totally indefensible. First, they didn't know the rule, and they allowed a coach to bully them into making the wrong call. The first part of that doesn't bother me so much, since it's impossible to know every obscure NCAA rule. That's why umpires are supposed to carry rulebooks, so that when one of these once-in-a-decade situations arise, you can refer to it. It doesn't appear these guys had a rulebook, or they would have been able to read the part about issuing a warning, and they would have told Musgjerd the game was over.

If they DIDN'T have a rulebook, they should have let common sense prevail, and allowed the home run to stand. A large part of becoming a successful umpire is learning when to use common sense in applying the rules. The classic example is the way umpires at every level allow 2nd basemen or shortstops to sometimes be slightly off the 2nd-base bag when turning a double play. We let it go (within reason) because we know it prevents injuries.

There are thousands of little violations that take place over the course of a season, and umpires let them go because they don't impact the outcome of the game. For example, did you know that a 3rd-base coach is supposed stay in his designated coach's box? But when a big right-handed power hitter is at the plate, coaches often move 10 or 15 feet towards the outfield, and we let them do that, because it reduces the chance of them getting killed by a foul line drive.

In the same way, these umpires - if they didn't know the rule or have a rulebook - should have said "A high-five on the 3rd-base line doesn't impact the outcome of the game. You lose, go home."

But regardless of the umpires' malfeasance, it's Musgjerd who is the real villain here. Coaches aren't just there to win games. (Especially in junior college softball. This isn't the NFL.) They are in their jobs to teach the skills of their sport, teach teamwork, cooperation and a sense of sportsmanship. Musgjerd failed as a coach, as a person and as a representative of her sport.


  1. Perfectly stated, especially the final paragraph. Thank You.

  2. I was an umpire for over 20 years and I'm in total agreement that sometimes common since should prevail when situations like the one you described come up.

  3. It is only reprehensible if you don't know the rules and don't play by them. Common sense should tell you to play by the rules. - WMD

  4. Look at her she looks like she would do anything to win a game. Shw would sell her kids to get a win

  5. Well put, this is not the NFL, these are not professional paid athletes. This coach has more responsibility than just winning. Clearly no advantage was gained. Common sense should have prevailed. Take those traits into the real world and these women will be despised by their co-workers and colleagues.

  6. This is the perfect example of horrible sportsmanship. I understand rules are used to make the game fair, but not to get a free pass to act like a jerk. She made a fool out of herself just to get a win. A coach is supposed to teach the girl to have sportsmanship and she did the complete opposite! She does not deserve to teach a great sport like this, and that team who was laughing at the runner shouldn’t deserve to even play the game.

  7. WMD, you and "Coach" Musgjerd obviously do not know what the game of fastpitch softball is all about. What separates this sport from any other sport is that although these girls compete with a phenomenal competitive edge, it never overrides their sense of sportsmanship, sisterhood, or their love of what this sport stands for. A perfect example is what the Central Washington Girls did carrying the injured Western Oregon player around the bases. "Coach" Musgjerd and WMD could learn something from these girls. Rules are important to keep the game fair, but sometimes it takes sportsmanship to keep ridiculous rules ruining the heart of the game. Softball rules! -Scott L