Thursday, June 3, 2010


Chuck Norris would have called the baserunner out. --from my Facebook page

If you're a baseball fan, as I am, then you already know the situation from last night's game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians: Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from throwing the unprecedented third perfect game of the season when first base umpire Jim Joyce called the 27th batter safe even though replays showed he was clearly out. Galarraga retired the final batter to complete a one-hit shutout rather than MLB's 21st perfect game. Several fans and commentators have offered various opinions on the matter:

*Change the call to an error, thus preserving the no-hitter without actually altering anything else that happened.

*Retroactively correct the call and remove the final at-bat from the record books, thus officially preserving the perfect game.

*Do nothing. Mistakes happen and that's what happened here. The outcome will be more memorable because of the controversy, and will be remembered with Harvey Haddix's monumental non-perfect game in 1959.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig seems to have chosen the final option, though he now claims to be exploring instituting a replay option beyond correcting disputed home runs.

Some of the arguments I've heard for preserving the original call, and some of them are truly ludicrous, have something to do with baseball being a "metaphor for life" and "learning to deal with disappointment," and that such things "build character." Baloney. Baseball, like just about any sport, is about the rules. It is not a metaphor, it is not a character-building exercise, it is a game in which certain actions dictate certain outcomes. We may impose loftier ideals onto the game, but the game itself is about recording 27 outs before the other team scores more runs than you do. If you record 27 of those outs consecutively, you have a perfect game, as long as your offense can circle the bases. (Haddix's Pirates didn't, resulting in the most incredible single-game offensive failure of all time.)

Perfect games are among the rarest of feats in sports. They are an alignment of great pitching, great defense, and usually luck mixed with poor hitting. It is disappointing when they are lost on a bad pitch, a dropped ball, a hesitation. It is even worse when they are lost because of an officiating mistake. What MLB is telling us, essentially, is that the actions of the players on the field do not matter as much as a split-second decision from the umpire. A team can do everything right and still be denied their place in the statistical history book because of a non-player's human error.

We all know of those notorious game-changing errors that have been caused by an officiating goof in the past: the very similar mistake that probably cost the St. Louis Cardinals the 1985 World Series, the fifth down play that allowed Colorado to win a football game, Nebraska's "kicked" ball in the end zone that allowed them to keep an undefeated season alive, Testaverde's yard-short touchdown. Mistakes happen, and they will continue. Such is the nature of being human. But is this not an opportunity for us to learn a different lesson? That sometimes those with the power to correct a mistake should correct that mistake? That allowing an injustice to stand because we can't fix every mistake is to admit that no rule is worth upholding? "We can't catch every speeding car, so why bother about enforcing the speed limit at all?"

To their credit, both Galarrage and Joyce have handled the matter with the highest degree of dignity and class. Joyce has apologized profusely, and Galarraga has been gracious and forgiving. They have truly been a credit to the image of MLB. So good in fact, that I think they each deserve a mulligan. Let the umpire's mistake get corrected so he won't spend the rest of his career as "that guy." Let the pitcher take his place in the Hall of Fame's register of perfect games. Let the fans in the park have their attendance at a historic moment recognized by the League that only survives because of their support.

I propose (not that the League cares about my opinions) a simple rule change, retroactive to June 2, 2010. "Any play that has the potential to end the game that is disputed by a manager or a member of the umpiring crew may be reviewed by the home plate umpire or another umpire of his choosing if he himself made the disputed call. Upon review, if the initial call is judged to be incorrect it shall be changed appropriately and no action taken after such change shall be entered into the record of the game, and no such statistics will be applied to any players in the game. This rule will not apply to a dispute of the strike zone."

Well, that's what I would do.

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