Justice Is Served

June 3, 2010 6:15 AM

Ump's flawed call ruins Galarraga's perfection


Unbelievable. Stunning. Shocking.

Take your pick. Either of these three words describes a call in Comerica Park that robbed Tigers right-hander Armando Galarraga of a perfect game. 

Stolen ... OK, that might be best word of all to chose, because it speaks to what happened to Galarraga's date with immortality; it was stolen.

Here he was Wednesday night on the precipice of history. He was pitching a gem against the Indians. Having retired 26 batters in a row, he needed one more out to etch his name into baseball lore.

Just one more out -- that's it -- and Armando Galarraga would have been the owner of the 21st perfect game in baseball history.

Well, perfection eluded Galarraga in the most unimaginable way possible. Facing rookie Jason Donald, Galarraga got Donald to bounce a dribbler between second and first. Miguel Cabrera, no Gold Glover, made a nice stab and threw softly to first base, where Galarraga was heading to cover the bag.

Cabrera's throw to Galarraga beat Donald by a half-step. No bang-bang play was this. Galarraga and the ball arrived ahead of Donald.

Perfect game, right?

So now for the rest of the story: Umpire Jim Joyce, a 22-year veteran, signaled Donald safe. Joyce was empathic in his call, a call that TV replays showed he had botched. Mistake, yes ... it was a horrible mistake; it was an unforgivable mistake.

Baseball has had its share of bad calls. Ask any baseball fan, and he can tell you about a lousy call that boggled his mind. But he also would say bad calls are a part of the human element that makes baseball what it is.

He has a point, because the game has an untidy element about it that makes it seem quaint. Or does its quaintness make the game a relic?

Pick your side on the latter, but then look at replays of the call Joyce made and then ask yourself if quaint is what the sport should be about. The game has the technology to get calls right, but the game has been stubborn about embracing that technology when a call is obviously wrong.

Baseball die-hards of the old school have denounced replay as an intrusion on the human element of baseball, and they have made a good case for keeping it out of the game. But the die-hards saw those wavering about replay sway to the other side of the debate after what happened to Galarraga, whose 108-minute masterpiece ended in ruins.

The call that stole his perfect game will be replayed for days and weeks to come, and it might be the reason that Major League Baseball will be forced to install instant replay for close calls. Bad calls like the one Joyce made does baseball no favors.

Not that Joyce's call will alter the 2010 season in a significant way. One win or loss in a 162-game season isn't much. Besides, Joyce's call didn't change the game's outcome either, which Galarraga and the Tigers won, 3-0.    

Look at the call; it's the type an umpire can't afford to miss. It was a call that, had Joyce asked for help, would have straightened it out; his colleagues would have set him straight. Replay would have set things right, too.

Now, Galarraga joins the long list of men who have flirted with perfection and come out with less. His one-hitter was fine work, and that's what history will recall about this outing: the statistical side of baseball history.

The human side will remember it differently. It will point to disappointment; it will scream that history was cheated, and that baseball fans were cheated -- all the 17,000-plus fans at Comerica.

Every major professional sport has replay of some sort, and after Joyce's call, it makes bringing replay to baseball a sound idea. Yes, replay might delay a game that's played at a relaxed pace, but it can assure one thing that didn't happen in Galarraga's chase of perfection: that an ump gets the call right.

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