Perfect, but not perfect: Pair of calls are blown
Last Wednesday night we were assembled in front of the tube watching the end of the Red Sox game, as we do most nights. It’s an after-dinner nocturnal ritual.
The Sox announcers informed us that Armando Galarraga of the Tigers was taking a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians. Twenty-four Indians’ hitters had come up and all 24 had been set down. So we changed the channel to see if the young Tiger pitcher could close it out.
Good sports. Exciting.
There have been only 20 perfect games in Major League Baseball’s long history, though two have been thrown this season. Twenty in over 100 years. Baseball glories in its history. Perfection is rare in this game of inherent failure.
The Indians’ Mark Grudzielanek crushed the first pitch of the ninth inning to the deepest recesses of Detroit’s Comerica Park where Tiger centerfielder, Austin Jackson, ran it down and made a stunning over the shoulder catch, reminiscent of Willie Mays in the ’54 World Series. We cheered in our living room.
The second batter, Mike Redmond, hit a routine grounder to short, 6-3, for the second out. On a 1-1 count, Jason Donald, the next hitter hit a bouncer between first and second. The Tigers’ first sacker, Miguel Cabrera, hustled far to his right, backhanded the ball, twisted, and made a nice underhanded toss to Galarraga, covering first, who tagged the base an instant before Donald crossed it.
You baseball fans know what happened next. Just as the 17,000 hometown fans were erupting in celebration, first base umpire, Jim Joyce, was vigorously sweeping his arms back and forth — “SAFE.”
Tiger players and manager Jim Leyland protested while televised replays showed unequivocally that Donald was out, Their protests were to no avail. Galarraga made quick work of the next hitter on another groundout and ended up with better than a perfect game — 28 outs in a row.
Joyce, an umpire in the majors for 23 years, took one look at the replay in the clubhouse and was properly distraught: “I cost that kid a perfect game.” For his part, Galarraga was gracious in the extreme, commenting “no one’s perfect.”
Since then, everyone has behaved well. At the beginning of the Tigers-Indians game the next afternoon, Galarraga brought the line-up card out to Joyce, the home plate umpire. Joyce wept; they shook hands. The Tigers have moved on, as they must.
Not me. I’m still upset at the call, and the subsequent inaction by Commissioner Bud Selig
In all of the sporting events I’ve watched over many years, never has an umpire’s call been this clearly wrong and unjust. As a coach and a parent, I have repeatedly instructed players that bad calls are “part of the game.” Officials are human; some are better than others; they make mistakes: deal with it, incorporate the human element into your appreciation for sports, even when the calls don’t go your way.
The purists (in whose company I usually find myself) will argue that it shouldn’t matter at what point in the game an infraction occurs. The official should make the same call. And of course they are right. In the abstract.
But we all know that in the last few minutes of a close hockey game, penalties often go uncalled. A basketball ref will not make a ticky-tack call in the game’s last seconds. A whomp on the shooting hand, yes, but a travel or three-seconds call, no. It’s the same in all sports.
That’s OK with me. Let ’em play. You really don’t want an official’s call to determine the game’s outcome.
The last pitch to Dale Mitchell in Don Larson’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series was a called strike. It has always looked in replays like it was just a little outside. The umpire Babe Pinelli had no hesitation in ringing Mitchell up: swing the bat, son. The man out there on the mound is making history.
So Jim Joyce wasn’t paying attention in the ninth inning of this historic game. Tie, in this case, does not go to the runner — it goes to the pitcher of the perfect game. Anything close, he’s out. He should have been prepared for a bang-bang play. It wasn’t just human error — it was a bonehead mistake.
The other mistake was Bud Selig not reversing the call and awarding the perfect game to Galarraga. He had a chance to right this wrong and he has chosen not to. As commissioner, he has broad authority to act “in the best interests of the game.”
Of course, doing so would be a dangerous precedent. All precedents are dangerous in one way or another, but it’s too much to expect bold or imaginative action from Selig, the owners’ toady.
Selig has said that MLB will examine thoroughly the use of video replay during games, in the aftermath of this miscarriage.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t do much for Galarraga, now does it.