Imperfect Baseball Showed Its Best Face

Sporting America is at a better place today. The principles so often promoted as the real values of our games, respect, acceptance, moving beyond issues over which we have no control, have been placed out there before us.

And we responded like champions.

Whatever occurs the rest of this already tumultuous and remarkable baseball season, we, and the game, have had a moment in which everyone can take pride.

Not the call that star-crossed Jim Joyce made against Armando Galarraga, the call which cost Galarraga a perfect game. But the way everyone involved, Joyce, Galarraga, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, responded, with class.

That Leyland quote Wednesday night after the game, after the incident, after Joyce missed the call on what should have been the 27th straight out, summed up a tough situation in a beautiful way.

"The players are human,'' he said, "the umpires are human, the writers are human, the managers are human. We all make mistakes.''

That was no mistake Thursday, when Galarraga carried the Tigers lineup card to the plate and Joyce, who hours earlier confessed, "I cost the kid a perfect game,'' took the card and slapped Galarraga on the shoulder.

There it was for the country. There it was for the Little Leaguers. And the big leaguers. We can't alter the past; let's make the best of the future.

Errors. Billy Buckner in the 1986 World Series. Now Jim Joyce in the 2010 Tigers-Indians game. Every time you go out there, you have to be prepared to make the best of the worst.

A UCLA football coach of long ago, Red Sanders, hearing a fan claim the refs cost his team a game, contended, "If my players made as few mistakes as the officials we'd never lose.''

Technology has swallowed sports. Once the only witnesses were the people at the ballpark. Or on the playground. Shirts and skins in basketball, and we called our own fouls, or attempted to do so. Maybe for a pickup baseball game, a father might be pressed into service to make calls.

"You're blind ump, you're blind ump,'' go the lyrics from a song in Damn Yankees, "you must be out of your mind ump.''

We grow and are taught, if unintentionally, umps and refs don't see, don't know. But most of the time they see everything and know enough.

They'll never be perfect. None of us ever will be perfect. Phil Mickelson misses 2-footers. Kobe Bryant occasionally misses free throws. Umpires miss close plays. Television, of course, does not miss a thing.

Racing, in effect, started instant replay in 1937 with the invention by a Paramount Pictures engineer, Lorenzo Del Ricco, of the strip camera, providing the photo finish and the precise order in which horses crossed the finish line. In a competition built on wagers, getting it right was the only thing which mattered.

That other sports, with human contestants, were reluctant to use science as a backstop is understandable. If an ump's decisions were good enough for Babe Ruth they ought to be good enough for Barry Bonds. Or Albert Pujols.

As we learned once more, they are not.

There's a picture from the 1952 World Series. Johnny Sain, the Yankees pitcher - no DH in those days - has planted his foot on the bag, the ball is two feet from the glove of Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges and ump Art Passarella is giving the out sign.

That was a still photo. Newspapers didn't hit the doorstep or the stands until the following morning. Yankee fans could scream, but after a day the screams were muted by time.

Football fought against the inevitable use of replay. It had to surrender. When 10 million viewers are shown repeatedly a dropped pass the field judge ruled complete, credibility was at stake.

Denver's Rob Lytle never got across the goal before fumbling against the Raiders. Vinny Testaverde scored a phantom touchdown for the Jets to beat the Seahawks. Do something, already. The NFL did something.

And so did the NCAA and the NBA and the NHL. Three-pointers are reversed to two-pointers. Pucks which seem halted outside the goal in fact made it over the line.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig did the right thing not over-ruling Joyce. You can't undo history. But Bud, and baseball, and the umpires, can make a serious effort to utilize instant replay.

We appreciate the way Galarraga and Joyce handled the trauma, without grudges, and for the umpire, without excuses. Their grace was admirable.

What happened, happened. Now it is upon the Lords of Baseball to make certain it doesn't happen again.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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