Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Perfect Call

In the aftermath of the biggest blown call by an umpire in Major League Baseball in over two decades, I can't help but wonder if Jim Joyce did Armando Galarraga and the rest of baseball a huge favor last night.

If you haven't already heard, Galarraga, pitching for the Detroit Tigers, had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth inning when Cleveland Indians' shortstop Jason Donald hit a chopper to the right side. First baseman Miguel Cabrera moved to his right, fielded the ball, tossed it to first where Galarraga was covering for what should have been the 27th and final out of perfection.

Donald was out by almost a full step. Joyce, umpiring at first base, called him safe.

Cabrera put his hands on his head in disbelief. Tigers' manager Jim Leyland came out to argue the call. The Tigers' television announcers were so sure Donald was out, they didn't even bother to wait for Joyce's call before exclaiming, "He's out!"

Even Donald himself threw his hands on his head as if he couldn't believe it, either. It was almost as if he wanted to be out. He would later explain that he didn't know if he was out or not, but he was sure he would be called out given what was at stake.

And Galarraga? Well, he just smiled.

That's what got me. The guy was one out away from throwing a perfect game, loses it on a bad call, and all he does is smiles? I was thinking, as most of you probably were:

"If that were me, I would have gone ballistic. I mean, safe? Really? You just cost me a perfect game! Seriously?! I'm going George Brett pine-tar on this guy. You've got to be kidding!"

No, not Galarraga. He took a deep breath and retired the next hitter for a one-hit shutout. The damage had been done. After the game, Joyce apologized and admitted he was wrong.

"I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay," he said. "I just cost that kid a perfect game."

Joyce would later apologize directly to Galarraga. They hugged, with Joyce in tears.

Obviously the call and the game led to plenty of talk about expanding instant replay in baseball. Royals' catcher Jason Kendall said today that Joyce is the best umpire in baseball, and there's no room for replay, at least more replay, in the sport.

We live with bad calls and move on. It's baseball.

It also led to questions as to whether Commissioner Bud Selig would overturn the call so Galarraga could have his perfect game. Selig ruled against that idea today, and I think it was a good decision. Human error is a part of sports officiating, maybe moreso in baseball than any other sport. If we corrected every bad call in the previous 20 perfect games in MLB history, who knows if any or all of those would no longer be thought of as 'perfect'?

Most importantly, though, the call led to us finding something out about what it really means to be perfect. After the game, Galarraga talked about how sad it was for Joyce, that he really felt for him. You'd expect the feeling would be the other way around. Then today, Galarraga, smiles and all, presented the lineup card to a tearful Joyce, a job usually left for the manager or bench coach of the ball club.

Galarraga had been perfect, as a pitcher, for one night. Yet, he would not be remembered as perfect, at least baseball-wise. He did not let it phase him, though. He accepted it and moved on, as quick as that. There's something to be learned from his professional and forgiving attitude* immediately after the call all the way through today.

*NBA Finals participants, are you listening? One of the many reasons I think college basketball is much more entertaining than the pros is the way the pro players react when a foul is called. After every whistle, like clockwork, you have ten grown men whining and crying about an obvious foul call or travel or whatever. Give me a break, guys. This isn't street-ball. It's disgusting.

And in his response, Galarraga has made us not be able to forget him. Sure, we all would have remembered the call. But Galarraga has become more than his imperfect-perfect game. Joyce has played a role, too. Not every umpire would be willing to admit a mistake that large, and come back to the ballpark the next day ready to work.

It's really been something special. There have been two other perfect games in the last month. Had Joyce made the correct call at first last night, Armando Galarraga would have been a name remembered only for the next few days. Maybe even a month.

Now, though, this story has become so much more. It's bigger than baseball. We'll never forget Armando Galarraga, or the smile on his face after the call. We'll never forget Jim Joyce becoming so human after the worst call of his career.

It's funny, I'm not sure Galarraga knew the irony in his statement after the game to reporters, in which he summed up the call by Joyce.

"Nobody's perfect," he said.

In a weird way, it couldn't have been more perfect.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. While it was one of the worst calls I've ever seen, it's important to remember that these guys are still human and make mistakes just like any of us, and you did a great job of getting that message across. You're right in that this event is so much bigger now than if Donald had simply been called out, and as a result we get an excellent story and example of what sportsmanship really is, in a day and age when it's extremely hard to come by.