Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Major League Baseball should do the right thing, overturn call

The Colorado Rockies lost the series finale to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night 4-1. Matt Cain pitched a beautiful game, keeping Rockies hitters off balance all night long. Troy Tulowitzki was the only Rockie hitter who was able to solve Cain. He launched a solo home run deep to left center field through the fog of the bay.

While the Rockies game was disappointing for fans, winning a series in San Francisco makes the loss easier to handle.

Meanwhile, all of baseball's eyes rest on the city of Detroit. In what is becoming the year of the pitcher, Armando Galarraga, recently recalled from the minor leagues, had completed 26 outs of the 27 needed for a perfect game.

Already in 2010 there have been two perfect games thrown, one by Dallas Braden on Mother's Day, and the second by Philadelphia starter Roy Halladay just five days ago. In 120 years, there have been just 20 perfect games.

Indians shortstop Jason Donald hit a weak ground ball that was fielded by Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, running to his right, threw across his body to Galarraga who was covering the bag. Galarraga made the play and began to celebrate one of the most rare and sacred feats in Major League Baseball.

Instead, first base umpire Jim Joyce spoiled the moment. He appeared as if he was going to punch Donald out, then signaled safe, nullifying the perfect game. Galarraga stood in amazement, staring at Joyce as if he could not believe what had just taken place. Understandably, Tiger's manager Jim Leyland stormed onto the field and argued to no avail.

Galarraga went quietly back to the mound and recorded the next out.

After the game, Jim Joyce reportedly saw the replay and began crying. The AP quoted him as saying "I just cost that kid a perfect game." He insisted on talking with Galarraga, apologizing profusely for the missed call.

In the books, the game goes down as a complete game shutout. That is a travesty to the game of baseball.

As a baseball purist, someone who has never been an advocate for instant replay, this one is hard to handle.

However, Major League Baseball has a rare and unique chance to show that they value stats, but yet are not stuck in the past. Bud Selig needs to reverse Jim Joyce's call at first base and declare the game over. Perfect game for Galarraga.

It will be argued that many other games may have been perfect if an umpire had not missed a call. That may be true, but none have been as definitive as this game was. If Joyce makes the correct call, the game is over. Plain and simple. At the moment Galarraga catches the ball, and tags first, the game is done. Perfect game. Never has a perfect game been robbed so clearly.

Some will argue that if this call is reversed, than every other bad call in baseball history must be reversed as well. That is simply not true. With respect to the most infamous blown call in MLB history in 1985, no other call has so blatantly determined the outcome of an individual performance. We are not talking about changing who wins and who loses the game, we are talking about who reached base.

Some will say that if that call is changed, they would have to look at every pitch that Galarraga may have thrown with three balls in the count. If the home plate umpire missed one of those calls, then the perfect game would be over. That, however, is not comparing apples to apples. A strike zone is far more subjective than a call at first base, where the runner is simply safe or out. A strike zone is dictated clearly by the judgement of the home plate umpire.

Overturning the call is the best decision that Major League Baseball can make. Will overturning the call hurt anything? It is hard to believe that anyone on the Indian's roster is going to bed believing that the call was correct, or that they deserved a hit. Would the umpires union be upset with Bud Selig if the call was reversed? They might be, but it would be in their best interest to allow the change to happen. Imagine being Jim Joyce for a minute. A well-respected umpire, a veteran of All-Star games, World Series and postseasons will now forever be remembered for a botched call at first base. He has already admitted that he feels horrible about the call. He admits that it will define his career. Would he be upset if the call was overruled? Doubt it.

The move would also give Major League Baseball a chance to show that they are not so rigid and completely inflexible. It would show why instant replay is, in fact, not needed. If something like this can be overturned in the commissioners office the next day, there would be no reason for umpires to huddle under a replay booth for 10 minutes to see every angle.

So if the Indians know deep down that they had a perfect game thrown against them, and the umpire who ruled incorrectly knows that he blatantly missed the call, and every person who has seen the replay knows that the call was incorrect, why not overturn it. Nothing is going to be hurt. It does not affect the integrity of the game. The call does not affect the outcome of the game, it affects a personal achievement, one that everyone knows Galarraga accomplished.

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  1. Based on what I've learned about Galarraga the past few hours, I get the sense he wouldn't be receptive to an overturn. He's forgiven and moved on and done so with more class than most of us can even fathom. Of course that makes me wish he'd gotten his moment even more.

    I just hope this game becomes historic for another reason. I want this to be the one that wakes up MLB and makes them address what's happening on the field with these umpires. I accept that missed calls are part of the game, but it's at a point now where they're overshadowing games.

    Not only are the calls overshadowing games, but certain umpires are as well. Obviously Joyce is not one of those, but there are plenty of them who are. I want to see them addressed and I want to see umpires be held accountable. And then I want us to look back at this game with even more historical significance than even a Perfect Game holds.

  2. Mark,
    There is no doubt that Galarraga's reaction was extremely graceful. I would have been going crazy if it was me, but he really took it in stride. I wonder if he woke up this morning and thought "I lost a freaking perfect game!!"

    I think that this will be a wake up call for Major League Baseball in regards to their umpires. Guys like Joe West and Angel Hernandez have been acting like they are the ones who people paid to see. Frankly, the quality of umpiring has greatly diminished, while the attitude of superiority has increased. Its getting old to see calls blown, but its getting more old to see umpires blow calls with an attitude.

    I do feel bad for Joyce. His career is ruined.

  3. I completely disagree. Major League Baseball has made the right decision in refusing to reverse the blown call.

    The perfect game is absolutely the most difficult achievement in all of sports. If you look at the 20 official perfect games in major league history, you'll notice that while there are some big name pitchers on the list, there are also some big surprises. I point that out because a perfect game takes as much or more luck than it does talent. Nolan Ryan, in my opinion the most dominant pitcher in major league baseball history, does not have a perfect game. Neither does Pedro Martinez, even though he took a perfect game into the 10th inning in 1995.

    A perfect game is about more than a pitcher's performance. You can always point to a perfect defensive play that preserved a perfect game. In the most recent perfect game, you can point to at least three crucial strike calls that went in Roy Halladay's favor, even when the replays showed that they should have been called balls.

    Baseball is the only sport that relies on one human being to make one call that can change history. There are no committee meetings like you see NFL or NBA officials have after big calls. There are no instant replays other than on home runs. Outs, safes, balls and strikes are called by a human being. Their ability to see a play happen and make a call based on what they see is as much of a talent as a hitter's ability to identify a 95 mph fastball and drive it for extra bases. Great hitters fail two-thirds of the time. Umpires fail much less often.

    If you look at the play that cost Armando Galarraga the perfect game there was more than one mistake made on that play. The fact of the matter is that Miguel Cabrera should not have fielded that ball. The replays that have been playing non-stop since Wednesday show that Cabrera strayed outside of his typical range and took the ball away from the second baseman. Had Cabrera been covering 1st base, it would have been a routine 4-3 putout at first base. Game over. Perfect game.

    Both Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga have handled themselves with unbelievable class and dignity in the game's aftermath. They understand that this is a game played by players who fail more often than not, and called by umpires who are no less human. Bad calls happen. At the end of every season, any given team can probably point to 10 - 15 calls that cost them an out here or a run there, any of which could have changed the course of their season. Going back after the fact and correcting umpire mistakes is a mistake in itself. It's a slippery slope that instantly obliterates the purity and excitement of the game.