04 June, 2010

The Blown Call --OR-- Why I Love Baseball

Two outs in the ninth inning. Armando Galarraga has retired twenty-six batters on eighty-seven pitches and the eighty-eighth is a 1-1 changeup that Jason Donald hits on the ground to first. The pitcher covers the bag--catches the toss--and Donald is called safe by umpire James Joyce!

It would have been only the twenty-first perfect game in major league baseball history, although the third this season. But it wasn't. Donald is safe at first, and Galarraga finishes with a one-hit shutout.

The replays show it clearly, if by 'clearly' we mean that it's clear in a freezeframe. Donald should have been called out. Some say he WAS out, that it's a perfect game for Galarraga.

Why not call it a perfect game? It doesn't hurt anyone. You could even give Donald the hit and Galarraga the perfect game at the same time. Why not? It doesn't affect the outcome of the game, the Tigers win whether it was a hit or not. It's like a bad call in figure skating, right? Didn't that just make you cry when those meanie European judges robbed Canada's widdle sweethearts? Wasn't it right to just give everyone gold medals and make it all better?

Fig. 2: Awwww. Does everyone feel better now?

Because this is baseball, not figure skating. There is no crying in baseball. The umpire made a mistake? Part of the game. An act of God, if you will, and in the tiny world of dirt and grass bounded by chalk and the outfield fence, that man in black is the Supreme Being.

The Tigers' manager argued, but The Call was Safe, and verily the runner is safe!

But after the game, James Joyce reviewed the tapes and saw what everyone else already had: he blew it. Donald was out by a full step. That was a perfect game.

And then Joyce did something no god or umpire never does: he came down his throne on high and said, 'I blew the call. I'm sorry.'


And what did Galarraga say? What every baseball player says in every interview. It is what it is. Just out there to help the team. James Joyce is a great guy and a good umpire. It's a long season.


Next day -- because Baseball is played every day when the weather suits -- Joyce isn't the first base umpire. He's behind the plate in charge of balls and strikes now. And he walks out in front of that Detroit crowd. He robbed THEM of perfection. He robbed THEM of a hero. This is a sports town that riots when they WIN. And what happens? They stand and APPLAUD.


The Tigers send Galarraga out to perform the ritual of handing Joyce the team's lineup card. Joyce looks it over and you can see him start to choke up. He gives Galarraga a tough-guy-I-love-you shove, the man he deemed by his supreme yet fallible authority to have pitched a one-hit shutout last night. And then Joyce reaches under the brim of his hat and wipes his moistening--

Fig. 3 : Class.

Did I say there was no crying in baseball? Well, maybe it's OK, just this one time. Play ball.

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