Umpire Steals a Perfect Game. Baseball Shouldn’t Steal the Game’s Soul.

| June 2, 2010 | 3 Replies

I have been a baseball fan all my life. I’ve watched thousands of games and I tell you that I’ve never seen a worse call by an umpire than the call Jim Joyce made to rob the Detroit Tigers’ Armando Gallaraga of a perfect game tonight. If Joyce had made the right call — the no-brainer call that any rec-league ump would have mad — Gallaraga’s perfect game would have been the third such game in just 25 days, an unimaginable feat (Note, there had been only 18 perfect games recorded in the majors since 1880).

To Joyce’s credit, he stood there and took the heat from various Tigers players after the game like a man. He has openly admitted that he blew the call and apologized about as much as he really can. He can’t take the call back and he can’t make it up to Gallaraga, so grousing about it won’t really do much good. It’s baseball. Bad calls happen, even in historic games (Don Denkinger anyone? And it’s interesting to me that the Denkinger call happened on the same type of play as Joyce’s, though Joyce was in a different position.).

Here’s a video of the fateful at-bat. I recommend you hit the first link in my post to watch the full bottom of the inning, if for no other reason than to see the spectacular catch in left-center. I don’t know how long this video will stay up, so catch it while you can.

Tomorrow, this call will be the talk of every sports radio show and the likely topic won’t be the call but whether it’s time for the league to introduce instant replay to the game of baseball. I think that would be a huge mistake, and an overreaction that baseball fans will regret.

Baseball is a game played, and officiated, by humans. The core tenets of baseball are that life is not fair, that you will fail far more often than you will succeed, and that skill is important but perseverance is more important. I was proud of how Gallaraga smiled after Joyce made his call, how he buckled down and threw at least three nasty pitches to the next batter to get him out on a routine grounder. He showed an amazing amount of maturity not to go after Joyce, like many of us would have. I think he gets what baseball is really all about — succeeding after failure, even crushing failure that isn’t your fault. Major League Baseball should show the same class and acceptance of the human foibles of the game and resist the knee-jerk impulse to bring technological precision to a game that is wonderful because it is imperfect.

UPDATE: A thoughtful case for replay from my Twitter friend @BrainLemon. I don’t agree with him at all, but he makes a very reasonable argument.

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