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Imperfection, and Grace

2010 June 4
by Skip Sauer

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will apparently not reverse the blown call which cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game last Wednesday.  This is an interesting decision, and as with any controversy, there are costs and benefits on either side that must be weighed by the decision-maker.  I think Selig’s decision is the right one, and that he should be commended for it.

The most obvious factor to weigh is the injustice that stems from Galarraga not being credited with a perfect game in the record book.  But everyone agrees, in principle at least, that ex post adjustment to decisions made in sport should be the rarest of rare events.  There are no do-overs.  In terms of impact, the error in this case pales in comparison to the failure to call handball in the game which knocked Ireland out of this year’s World Cup.  That no retroactive action was taken in that case illustrates how important the principle is.  Furthermore, although declining to reverse the call seems harsh, it is a decision that can be revisited at a later date, once passions have cooled.

What transpires as MLB proceeds to adjust the game of baseball during the next few months is not reversible, however, and this to me is a key issue.  Incorporating instant replay in a way that improves the game is number one on the agenda, and reversing Joyce’s call could take the steam out of an effort that, judging by the story linked above, is clearly on Selig’s mind.  From an economic point of view, the objective should be to minimize the costs of calling a fair game, inclusive of replay.  While it is not possible to eliminate the costs of imperfect human judgement — with or without a reversal from Selig — these costs can and should be minimized.

I also believe that changes in the way that baseball umpires do their job, along with their mutual interaction between players, managers, and umpires, is long overdue.  In no other sport are umpires as combative as they are in baseball.  A sound instant replay system will surely take some of the heat out of relations between managers and umpires (see the recent Oswalt-Hohn fiasco for an example of how these relations harm the game).  Until then, the incredible grace shown by an errant umpire and an imperfect pitcher shows the way forward.  Along with many others, I throw my kudos to Mr. Galarraga and Mr. Joyce.

15 Responses
  1. Dan permalink
    June 4, 2010

    Give a team one challenge a game through 8 innings but do not allow the managers or players argue any calls. Football coaches don’t run out to midfield to argue a holding call or the first down mark. Treat players and managers arguing out calls the way they do balks or balls and strikes and eject anyone that wants to get in an umpire’s face.

    Treat the ninth inning the way the NFL does the final two minutes and take the option away from teams and only allow booth replays.

    One challenge per team and no arguing calls will probably speed up the games since players won’t be stopping to argue every close call and the managers won’t be bouncing out of the dugout to protect their players from getting ejected. Of course no manager will be able to save Milton Bradley when he gets called out on strikes in the first inning and automatically tells the ump he needs glasses.

    And no way should Selig change anything. The game is over and another batter came up after the missed call.

  2. admin permalink*
    June 4, 2010

    If the first challenge is upheld, you might allow a second, final challenge per team, but no more. Losing access to the second challenge should preclude the use of frivolous challenges, at least until the late innings.

  3. Mary permalink
    June 5, 2010

    Here’s my humble comment, this from someone who has never played in an organized league for any sport and who has always been a spectator from the T-ball to the Olympics: what was the intent? I think back to controversial basketball games in the Olympics; corrupted judging in figure skating in the Olympics; a poor call in the Seton Hall-Michigan NCAA Championship game in the second OT in 1989, and now the Joyce-Galarraga incident: when malice is involved, such as the proven conspiracy in the figure skating Olympics against the French pair team, then a reversed call is in order. Umpire Joyce had no malice in his mistaken call. It was a mistake. To call it a “blown call,” however true, has a certain negative connotation to it, as if Mr. Joyce were a member of one of the two competing teams. He made an honest mistake. No malice, no incompetence, but an honest mistake. As I sit in my chair watching these games from all sports in all seasons, I am glad for the allowance of an honest mistake. In this overly , politically correct world, I am glad for the baseball arena which allows for the reality–painful though it sometimes is–that honest mistakes happen. Heaven help us if we create a world in which an honest mistake is no longer allowed. Mistakes happen. They just do. They just do.

  4. Doug permalink
    June 5, 2010

    I don’t understand what everyone is talking about, the ump did not cost Galarraga a perfect game. I looked at the photo myself, the runner is clearly out, therefore Galarraga did IN FACT throw a perfect game. It is really a mater of truth vs acceptable norms. Believe what you know to be true or believe what others decide for you is true. In this case, the king is clearly naked….just calling as “I see it!”

  5. June 5, 2010

    The premise of your article makes absolutely no sense. Galarraga threw a perfect game. Period. He should be recognized for this accomplishment and not stripped of it by some technicality.

    If Selig’s intention in denying the refersal of the umpire’s call is simply a Machiavellian calculation to generate more pressure to introduce instant replays into the game, then this is indeed a travesty of epic proportions.

    I remember when MLB used to be about integrity and honesty. This incident just reminds me of why I stopped watching Baseball back in the 90s – the game is no longer about achievement and competition – it’s about maximizing profits and cheating (e.g., through players using steroids).

    Selig had the opportunity to show that there’s still some integrity left in the game, but just like he has done nothing to rectify rampant steroid use in the game, he chose to stand by a bad call that cheats a player out of a once in a life time accomplishment.

    I hope you’re proud of yourself for being an apologist for a someone who is unwilling to stand up for what’s right and just.

    What happend to justice and integrity in this country? So much for Baseball being America’s sport – or maybe Baseball is the perfect American sport since it seems to be such a perfect reflect of the lack of integrity and honesty in this country . . .

  6. frank permalink
    June 5, 2010

    This comment is ridiculous to even compare handball of all things to baseball. The exception most certainly should have applied here and Selig f__ked up big time, this kid most certainly should have gotten credit for the game he pitched. If your saying a reverse of a call should be rare then this is one of those occassions.

  7. Charles Fry permalink
    June 5, 2010

    You are clearly out of your mind. You used the phrase, “rarest of rare events” in your article. Is there a MORE RARE EVENT then a perfect game? Apparently you have never pitched, or taken a good look at a sports records book. This replay issue isn’t new. It didn’t just crop up a few days ago. If this was on Bud’s mind (formost? FORMOST!? You HAVE to be kidding us) it would have been taken care of a long time ago.
    Pro Football at least made a decent effort to correct poor decisions by officals. Why hasn’t baseball followed suit? We have the technology, let’s use it. I realize tradition is deep-seated in baseball, but it’s time we step up a little bit. I know the human factor has always been a part of the game, but we all make mistakes.
    Baseball likes to talk about integrity when it comes to the steroid issue. Where’s the integrity now?

  8. June 5, 2010

    THE MISSED CALL BY THE UMPIRE SHOULD BE REVERSED BY BUD SELIG. THE UMPIRE ADMITTED HE MISSED THE CALL. IF THERE WAS REPLAY IT WOULD HAVE BEEN CORRECTED. TO PITCH A PERFECT GAME IS A ONCE IN A LIFE TIME EVENT AND THE PLAY SHOULD BE CORRECTED.

  9. Ken Silva permalink
    June 5, 2010

    To stick one’s head in the sands of tradition rather than to use the technology that we have to correct a mistake like this smacks of the history of religion on this planet. Truth and enlightenment be damned. (For the story to be linked to a site with the name “Christian” attached to it is no surprise.) Baseball has been particularly reluctant to embrace truth, as umpires will seldom, if ever, gather together on the field and reverse one umpire’s bad call, even when presented with visual proof on the replay screens. This is yet another example of ego and tradition and belief being more important than truth and justice and science. We’d all be better off embracing the “Science” part of the byline.

  10. WillK permalink
    June 5, 2010

    I disagree with the author’s opinion. There is no virtue, no justice, nothing admirable about clinging to a concept that has no merit or value – other than the ability to say ‘we stand by our decisions regardless of how wrong they are’. What value is a ruling that is clearly false, and clearly viewed as false by any right thinking person? In this particular case, it was instanteously known that the runner was out, the game was over, the pitcher perfect. Even Joyce said as much, as soon as he was able to view the replay. How would the game be harmed by reversing this call? I would think just the opposite – that the game would benefit from such display of fairness.

  11. Dayton 423 permalink
    June 5, 2010

    Sorry, guys. I agree with the use of instant replay to check for near home run balls (above or below the line, in fair or foul territory), which is routinely done, but other than that………… forget it. Just because we have technology is not sufficient reason to use it in baseball. If this play had happened in the 4th inning, it would be a no-never mind. Baseball is the last bastion of freedom from instant replay, let’s keep it that way.

  12. Frank permalink
    June 5, 2010

    I don’t understand why they cannot give this guy the no-hitter. We all can see that a mistake was made. This is a situation where an exception can be made. You are talking about a rare accomplishment by a player. This mistake is not like the umpire blew a call that cost a team the game, his decision (not purposely) is keeping a player from going into the record books by accomplishing something that is rare in baseball. I say, reverse this decision.

  13. Kim Clements permalink
    June 5, 2010

    What about the Fans that had a piece of baseball historyy stolen from them not just the ones at the game but all who watched on tv. Is it fair to us ? I think we should sue MLB to try to atleast hold them acountable.

  14. timo permalink
    June 5, 2010

    I think you would have seen no umpire apology had the error not been so clearly caught on replay. So replay helped him decide how to proceed with his career. But it did not help the pitcher. Agree with the writer that the combativeness of unaccountable umpires is an issue. Due to the umpires union, close calls are still not shown at most ballparks. MLB has been like lambs not negotiating for better use of technology. If technology can call the balls or straights, let it. Of course the union will howl. But, too many inconsistent strikes zones. They get most base calls right but their eyes are as bad as mine behind the plate.

  15. Greg Pinelli permalink
    June 7, 2010

    Without a doubt Selig could have reversed the original call..one can only imagine what Joce could have been thinking! He should have taken a well learned lesson from the great Umpire Babe Pinelli who worked Don Larson’s perfect World Series game. Dale Mitchell was the last batter to face Larson..and he was an exceptional hitter with a great batting eye. Pinelli called the last pitch..clearly high and outside..a strike…Mitchell said …”that effing thing was a ball…” Pinelli responded calmly..”not today Dale..not today..”

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