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Imperfection, and Grace

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.