While the San Diego Padres were beating the Mets in exciting fashion, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was going for a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians. Galarraga, a not so exceptional pitcher (career 4.62 ERA, 5.19 FIP), was apparently on, as he retired the first 26 Tigers in order.
The fateful play was a groundball (the 14th that Galarraga had induced) hit towards first base by Indians shortstop Jason Donald. Galarraga covered and took the throw from first basemen Miguel Cabrera. It was a bang-bang play. Upon further review, however, it is clear that Donald was out.
There were a few issues I wanted to cover. Dave Cameron, via Twitter, said this:
Wondering if anyone on earth would object to MLB just retroactively revoking the call and crediting Galarraga with an official perfect game.
While I respect Cameron’s opinion tremendously, and my earthly residence may be in question, I certainly object to his scenario.
First off, I’m not sure if it is worth retroactively “getting it right.” I understand that we want to record what actually happens, and Donald surely was out, but is it worth it after the fact? A game happens, and then it is over. We can’t, nor shouldn’t, go back and change things around after the fans have left the ballpark or turned their TV sets off, and the players have left the field.
Secondly, and more importantly, umpires are part of the game. Just like players, they make mistakes, and just the Bill Buckner, sometimes they happen at the most inopportune times. We can further extrapolate on the Bucker example, saying that, for example, that groundball that famously shot under his legs should have been an out 95% of the time. Then 95% of the time the Red Sox *should* have won the World Series in 1986.
Of course, comparing a player’s gaff to one of an umpire is, to a large degree, apples and oranges. Players play the game, and their mistakes are meant to have an impact on a game’s outcome. Umpires are merely present to enforce the rules of the game and ensure fair play. However, we can’t expect them to be perfect. Perhaps on the call Jim Joyce missed, the first base umpire nails correctly 95% of the time. This time, Joyce missed it. If it happened in the 5th inning of a normal, 5-2 game, nobody would have noticed. Like Bucker, Joyce chose precisely the wrong time to make his mistake.
Further, on twitter (and blog posts), people were, once again, clamoring for instant replay. I guess I’m in the minority amongst the sabermetrically-inclined, but I am not a big fan of instant replay.
First, the practical issues. Does each team get a certain number of replay attempts, like the NFL? Is there an official replay umpire that reviews every call? Can every single call be reviewed? What about balls and strikes? Regardless of the actual process, the game would undoubtedly be slowed even further.
More so than that, however, consider the philosophical issue touched on above. When I’m watching a football game, there’s nothing more frustrating than a clear touchdown that needs to be reviewed, just in case the ball didn’t break the plane. Sure, the idea is to get it right, but I don’t want to hedge my celebration because an inevitable replay is forthcoming.
What I’m trying to say is that a game happens in real-time, I want my results in real-time. On every close, game-deciding call at first base or home plate, I don’t want to have to wait for replay to tell me what happened.
Umpires have been part of the game since its inception. I understand that technology is advancing, and the baseball should too. The equipment has changed, the fields have changed, the style of play has changed. But it has always been played by humans (it, at times, chemically advanced ones), officiated by humans. The umpires, just like the players, have been making mistakes for years. They are part of the game.
The baseball gods allowed Armando Galarraga, a middling pitcher who, let’s face it, has no place throwing a no hitter in the Major Leagues, get within one out of perfection — immortality. Perhaps fittingly, they took it away when Joyce missed a close call at first. Galarraga was locked in, probably like never before, showing that anything can happen when humans play baseball. Joyce responded by missing a call that he probably gets right most every time, showing that anything is possible when humans umpire baseball.