Thursday, June 3, 2010

Perfection and the human element


It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction umpire Jim Joyce will receive in Detroit this afternoon when he comes out to home plate at Comerica Park for a grounds-rule meeting and exchange of lineups between the Tigers and Indians.

Well, I know what kind of reaction he'll get when he settles in to work home plate. It won't warm and friendly, that's for sure. Probably some early boos that will eventually fade as long as Joyce doesn't squeeze the Tigers pitchers strike zone.

Joyce, of course, created an unholy baseball controversy Wednesday night when he ruled -- incorrectly-- that Jason McDonald was safe at first base with two outs in the ninth inning of the Tigers' 3-0 win. All the call did was cost little-known Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

Galarraga had retired 26 in a row, and needed just one more out for baseball immortality. There's been only approximately 20 perfect games in the history of the game, but oddly, there's been two since Mother's Day.

First baseman Miguel Cabrera took Donald's bouncer, turned and threw to Galarraga, who was covering the bag. The throw beat Donald by at least a half-step. It was not a difficult call for a Major League umpire, but Joyce, a 22-year veteran, emphatically gave the safe sign.

What stood out was the aftermath. Sure there was some gnashing of teeth in the heat of the moment. After all, by all rights, Galarraga threw a perfect game. There's no question about it.

Umpire, who was in near tears, and pitcher hugged in the hallway of the park afterward. No one felt worse than Joyce, who apologized. Usually umpires corner the market on arrogance.

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it,” Joyce told the Associated Press, who reported he looked and sounded distraught as he paced the umpires’ locker room afteward. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

No one had a right to feel more bitter than Galarraga. But, he, like many of the Tigers, moved on, even if it was not easy.

“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,’” Galarraga said “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”

Initially, Tigers umpire Jim Leyland was irate over the call that would have put his non-descript pitcher in the baseball history books. He charged out of the dugout to argue the call and got in another heated discussion with Joyce after the final out.

Later, though, Leyland tried to give Joyce a break.

“The players are human, the umpires are human, the managers are human,” Leyland said.

This will renew the appeal for instant replay in the game. Instant replay is only used for disputed home runs. Maybe a slight tweak where a manager could ask for one replay a game would be workable, but I would hate to see something like pro or college football where the game goes it fits and stops because of incessant replays.

One of the traditions of baseball is the human element. This was a costly mistake by Joyce, but he, like all of us, are human. And there's no one -- I mean no one -- in America who feels worse today than Joyce. Umpires take pride in getting calls right and Joyce is one of the best.

But Joyce's response eased the bitterness of Galarraga afterward.

"I feel sad," he said, "but I feel sad for him too."

The perfect game and the imperfect final call.

1 comment:

XA said...

Jim Joyce and Galarraga met at home plate pre-game of today's matinee in Comerica Park as the pitcher presented the umpire with the Tigers' lineup card. Joyce shook hands with Galarraga and clapped him on the shoulder - a few tears welled up. Class act on both sides of the controversial call at 1st base last night.