On a day when Ken Griffey Jr.—one of the top 50 players in MLB history—retired, the Blackhawks and Flyers were trying to inch closer to their first Stanley Cup in 49 and 35 years, respectively, and Celtics vs. Lakers XII was fewer than 24 hours from beginning, none were the story du jour. For those of you experiencing more than an 23 hour delay on your satellite TV feeds, Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game on Wednesday night. It was a gutbuster that left me stunned in my living room. With two outs in the ninth inning, I was on the phone with my brother in one hand and had my son pulled close to me with the other as we collectively awaited history. The excitement was more than palpable and I can verify that there were sweaty palms. My brother was listening on the radio so he was two seconds ahead of my satellite feed. I heard him yell with ambiguous intentions. I didn’t know what it meant. Given the confusion of the play, I don’t think he knew what it meant. All I knew was that in two seconds, I was going to be subjected to an emotional extreme. I just didn’t know which one. Ugh.
Most of you know how rare a perfect game is but I’ll let my good friend “math” put it into perspective. Of the 392,018 games in MLB history, 20 have resulted in a perfect game.” Account for two pitchers per game and the odds of a pitcher hurling a perfect game are .0025% or, 1 in 39,202. Needless to say, what happened last night was a big deal. Galarraga breezed through the first 26 batters tossing 62 strikes on just 80 pitches including 22 of 26 first-pitch strikes. Jason Donald, Cleveland’s #9 hitter, came to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning. All 26 Cleveland Indians who came to the plate before him fell victim to Galarraga’s impeccable control. Donald would do the same. Galarraga elicited a weak dribbler from Donald that rolled towards Carlos Guillen at second base. That’s when Jim Joyce—the first base umpire—made a gaffe that will unfortunately define his career while simultaneously denying Galarraga a perfect game. Considering all of the consequences, it was quite possibly the worst non-injury related play in the history of MLB baseball.
Joyce’s call and MLB’s official record books cannot change the fact that Galarraga was, in fact, perfect. Semantics won’t change what Galarraga did on the field on Wednesday night. In fact, he actually one bettered a perfect game by recording 28 consecutive outs. Obviously, it would mean a whole lot more to Galarraga, his teammates, and the fans if it were officially recognized as a perfect game. It would’ve been a historical accomplishment not only for Galarraga but for a Tigers franchise that was literally on the brink of its first perfect game in club history. Once Joyce interrupted his out call (check the replay to see him begin to call Donald out) with a double sneaky “safe” call, any chance for a perfect game went out the window. MLB is historically stubborn about reversing calls in games let alone after games. However, there is precedent for MLB intervention. In fact, the infamous George Brett Pine Tar Incident was overturned a full week after it happened. The “spirit (of the game)” was cited as the reason Lee McPhail (A.L. President in 1983) overturned that call. One would think that the same “spirit” of the game should apply to Joyce’s gaffe. Unfortunately, the MLB Commissioner is an idiot. MLB just announced that it will not overturn Joyce’s ruling.
MLB had a unique opportunity here. In nearly every controversial play in sports history, overturning a play following a game is not possible simply because removing just one play creates a domino effect of “what ifs” for every play that occurred after. This situation was different. Galarraga got the very next batter out and the Tigers won the game 3-0 and would’ve won the game 3-0 with or without Joyce’s mistake. Some will argue that overturning this one play would be akin to opening “Pandora’s Box” with every other blown call in MLB history. That’s simply not true. What made this game different is how easy the clean-up would’ve been. I’m not even sure the Cleveland Indians would’ve minded the call being overturned.
Even if Bud Selig wasn’t an idiot and MLB overturned the call, Galarraga was denied something on Wednesday night that he will not get back. A reversal would’ve set things right as much as things could’ve been set right but it wouldn’t restore everything that Galarraga was denied. Perhaps the most exhilarating aspect of a perfect game is the immediate euphoria that follows the final out. Nobody carried Galarraga off the field. Nobody gleefully sprinted to the mound from the bullpen. Hell, nobody even smiled. Galarraga will never get that special moment back.
The official scorekeeper for the game could’ve sent Galarraga home with a hell of a consolation prize. A perfect game is 10 times as rare as a no-hitter but let’s not minimize what it would’ve meant for Galarraga and his career to have an officially recorded no-hitter to his name. A MLB Scorekeeper has all the discretion in the world to make executive decisions on close plays. Once it became obvious after it was shown on replay that Donald was out, the idea of issuing an “error” on that final play became a possibility. Detroit’s official scorekeeper scrutinized the play but concluded that there was not an error. I don’t think Miguel Cabrera would mind a little extra scrutiny on a less-than-perfect throw to first base especially if it preserves a no-hitter for his teammate. However, the scorekeeper decided that there simply wasn’t an error. I don’t agree with his decision to not find an error to at least get Galarraga into the recordbooks but I can’t blame the guy for sticking to his principles. Unfortunately, once Joyce took away the perfect game, Galarraga’s fate was in the hands of Bud Selig. Selig knows a thing or two about scrutiny and criticism. It’s not often that life presents the perfect opportunity to make everything right. In one swift swoop, Selig had the opportunity to not only preserve Jim Joyce’s legacy as a top-tier umpire and right the worst wrong in MLB history, he also had the opportunity to repair his own image which has been beaten and battered for the better part of two decades. Unfortunately, like I said, Selig is an idiot.
Once the initial shock and anger died down on Wednesday night (or Thursday morning depending on how pissed off you were), there was still a considerable amount of venom directed at Joyce from not just Tigers fans but sports fans across the country. I understand that sports fans, by trade, are emotional to the point of being tortured when injustices are committed. Believe me, I’ve been there and was there last night. However, it’s important to keep perspective. Joyce made a horrible call. It was one of the worst calls in sports history because it needlessly derailed a perfect game. That pisses me off and it should piss you off, too. Just remember that it was a decision that was made in a quarter of a second. Jim Leyland said after the game that he (and the Tigers bench for that matter) did not know if Donald beat the throw until he watched the replay. Although I wanted him to be out, I did not know for sure if he was out until I watched the replay. Joyce did not have the luxury of replay. The collateral damage of Joyce’s mistake will reverberate through baseball for as long as the game is played. However, let’s not confuse mistake with premeditation or intent. Everyone makes mistakes everyday whether it’s going through a red light or forgetting to DVR your wife’s favorite TV show. Somewhere in America this year, maybe even this week, a highway patrolman mistakenly issued a speeding citation to a veteran driver with a previously perfect record. The police officer wasn’t vilified. The driver wasn’t showered with compassion. Nobody cared. The big difference between what happened to Armando Galarraga and what happened to that driver is that people care about baseball. Jim Joyce made a splint-second mistake. Let’s not compound the situation by making an even more damaging mistake by directing hate towards Joyce and his family. It could’ve happened to any of us.
The travesty on Wednesday night was that Armando Galarraga was denied an official perfect game. It wasn’t that Jim Joyce made a mistake. Save the hate mail and threats for someone with more diabolical intentions. Plus, Joyce has more than taken responsibility for his gaffe. That doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) boo him every time he comes back to Detroit. On a lighter note, I think it’s safe to say the Galarraga for Willis rotation adjustment has worked out pretty well.
* I wanted to title this post, “Bud Selig is an idiot” but I chose to reference the guy who pitched a perfect game rather than a guy who is an idiot.