Friday, June 4, 2010

Galarraga-Joyce saga continues – in aftermath, everyone on target except for Bud Selig

It is remarkable how the Armando Galarraga-Jim Joyce saga has continued to dominate the news in the past 48 hours. Remarkable, actually, in a good way because both men have behaved admirably in the wake of Joyce’s blown call on Wednesday. The story has become one of those that transcends sports. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post had stories on the front page of the newspaper this morning and The Post’s editorial page, which generally is completely unaware that sports exists outside the DC beltway, ran an editorial on the story—although it somehow found a way to tie it all back to how it affects Washington.

In the news business we call that the, “Dwight D. Eisenhower, who once flew over Trenton….was elected President last night,” approach to journalism.

Anyway, back to Galarraga and Joyce—and Bud Selig who has now become a major part of the ongoing saga.

The feel good part of this story is the way all of those directly involved have handled it. Joyce not only admitted he had gotten the call wrong once he saw it on replay, he sought out Galarraga to tell him how sorry he was about it. Galarraga accepted the apology and went out of his way to talk about how classy it was of Joyce to come and find him.

On Thursday, the Tigers and Indians wrapped up their series in Detroit with a 1 o’clock game. With Joyce scheduled to work the plate, there was all sorts of potential for disaster and trouble. When Don Denkinger worked the plate in game 7 of the 1985 World Series after his game 6 gaffe at first base, he ended up tossing both Whitey Herzog and Juaquin Andujar. That game was played in Kansas City, not St. Louis. God only knows what would have happened if the Cardinals had been the home team that night.

As has often been the case throughout his career, Tigers manager Jim Leyland did the exact right thing: He sent Galarraga to the plate with the Tigers lineup card. As soon as Galarraga walked up to Joyce and shook his hand, the fans who had been booing the umpires when they walked onto the field stopped. Many stood to applaud Galarraga. Joyce gave him a pat on the back as the meeting broke up and then turned into the Tigers dugout and pointed at Leyland to say, ‘thank-you.’

It was one of those cool sports moments where everyone gets it right. The Tigers won a 12-6 slugfest and there wasn’t any sign of trouble in Comerica Park throughout the afternoon. Kudos to all—including the Detroit fans.

Meanwhile, Selig was doing his best/worst imitation of Hamlet. He had an almost unique opportunity to right a wrong and send everyone home happy and he flat out blew it. All he had to do was say this: “After looking at the replay over and over; after hearing what Jim Joyce and Jason Donald (the Indians baserunner on the blown call) had to say and given the unique circumstances: the game was over if the call was made correctly AND by overruling it I am not changing the result in any way at all—it was 3-0 Tigers when the call was made and the final score was 3-0 Tigers with no further baserunners—I’m invoking my ‘best interests of the game,’ powers to reverse the call. Jason Donald was out. Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game.”

There is NO reasonable argument against this. To those who say Selig is setting a dangerous precedent I say this: fine. Let him declare that at any time in the future if a pitcher gets the first 26 outs of a game and then fails to get the 27th on a clearly blown call by an umpire who instantly says he blew the call, he will do the same thing. There’s your precedent. Now let’s sit back and wait for it to happen again.

Last night, Ken Burns, the noted baseball historian was on Keith Olbermann’s show. He started going on about ‘unraveling the sweater,’ by reversing this call. He brought up Bucky Dent’s home run, asking if it should be taken away because Dent may have used a corked bat. He mentioned the Giants stealing signs prior to the Bobby Thomson home run and Mark McGwire’s steroid induced home runs.

Oh please. Those are ridiculous analogies. For one thing, they involve cheating, not an out-and-out honest mistake that has been confessed to by the person who made the mistake. Second, a million different things could have happened—we’ll never know—if there was no corked bat (maybe Dent doubles; maybe the game is played differently if the Yankees aren’t ahead after Dent’s at bat, WE DON’T KNOW); same thing with Bobby Thomson or any other example like that baseball people might want to bring up.

Here, we know. There are no ‘what-ifs,’ involved. If Joyce makes the right call, the game is over. Even in the case of Denkinger, the Cardinals still had chances to win the game—all Denkinger did was give the Royals a baserunner leading off the ninth. It was a horrible mistake but there is no way you could go back and correct it once the game was over.

This can be corrected. Put simply, it is the right thing to do. Selig already changed the rules on postseason rainouts in the middle of a World Series, so why not do this? It would be the right thing for Galarraga certainly; it would save Joyce, a good umpire and a good man, a lifetime of carrying the label of blowing this call and it would be—wait for it—RIGHT FOR BASEBALL. If Ken Burns or some of the so-called ‘purists,’ want to get into a dither over it, let them. Most people who love the game would be happy that justice was done and there’s no harm done to anyone in the process. As I said, the next time something EXACTLY like this happens, let the commissioner do the same thing. My guess is Bob Costas’s great grandson will be commissioner by the time this exact circumstance comes up again.

Selig was absolutely babbling yesterday when he went on about how great everyone in the game was; how proud he was of Galarraga and Joyce and everyone else who has ever set foot on a baseball field. Remember, I’m not a Bud-basher. I like the guy and I think he’s done a lot of things right as commissioner. This time though the Selig-gyrations need to just stop and he needs to just do the right thing if only to get the governor of Michigan to stop issuing proclamations.

Here’s the scorecard right now: Galarraga—perfect. Leyland—perfect. Joyce—trying desperately to do anything possible to make up for his mistake. Tiger fans—fabulous. The leader of the sport?—hiding under a rock. Come on Bud, crawl out from under there and get this one right. Everyone else involved has brought honor to the game since Wednesday. Now it's your turn.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

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Max said...

I agree with John that if it could be just this one case it should be overturned, but people would not stop there. Next week there will be a blown call that ends the game (no perfect game or anything) and people will say, you changed that call last week, so you got to change this call. I think the Indians batter should be fighting hard to hold onto his hit, maybe he has a bonus at the end of the season and would fall one hit short if this was overturned.

Dwight said...

Bud is acting like a politician instead of doing the RIGHT thing. You really do have to love how everyone directly involved has handled this. The blown call hit twitter within seconds of it happening so Joyce deserves my admiration for standing up and taking responsibility and not playing the usual games of deniability the most major leagues are known for.

Jeremy said...

I feel Bud Selig would actually be a halfway decent commissioner if he only had a backbone. This was so predictable coming from him.

charles pierce said...

What people making the slippery slope of precedent argument are missing is that Selig's power in these matters is pretty much absolute. He can do the right thing here and not do it again, all the while being completely true to his office. He just doesn't want to get slapped by the umpire's union.

ck said...

So if there's "NO REASONABLE ARGUMENT" against retroactively changing the ruling, I suppose there's even less of an argument about going back and changing the call in the tenth inning at second that same night in the Mariners/Twins game, which was just as clearly wrong and which, unlike the Galarraga call, actually did decide the game, as it allowed the Mariners to score the winning run after what would have been the third out of the inning was not called. I think it's obvious from that what the problem is here - if you can go back and fix this one, where do you stop? There are profoundly sensible reasons for a policy that, once a game is done, it's done, even if an umpire's judgment call later proves wrong.

And the other "reasonable" argument is this: we're arguing about statistics, nothing more. Nothing will change the fact that the runner was actually out. Nothing will change the fact that Galarraga retired the next hitter. The damage, so to speak, was done as soon as he had to face the 28th hitter; it can't be undone. And nothing will change the fact that, when you come down to it, the error in a twisted way made his performance more memorable. Who remembers that Mike Witt pitched a controversy-free perfect game in 1984? A lot fewer, I'd guess, than will remember Galarraga's game 26 years from now. Or than remember Harvey Haddix's "perfect" game.

Bud Selig is a convenient target because he is so remarkably inarticulate and has done so many stupid things. But when it comes to bad decisions he's made, deciding not to set a dangerous precedent of revising history, only to effect a superficial statistical change that won't really affect anything, hardly registers.

Mr. X said...

John, I hope you have a great day tomorrow.

case said...

selig did the right thing
his role is not to interfere with the game on the field
talk about weak analogies--comparing this to the shortened all-star game ?? no relevance
the precedent would be a commissioner interfering with the game on the field--totally inappropriate
gallaraga would be known as the pitcher who threw the selig-aided perfect game
he will be remembered both for his game and the classy way he handled the result

John Graves said...

I have to agree with CK here. There are too many bad calls that do/don't affect the outcome of a game to decide THIS is the one that we should go back and change. The umpires making calls is just as much a part of the game as the pitches and the hits. You have to take the good with the bad.

What this should usher in is the beginning of instant replay in baseball. There's no reason not to have it, especially when a situation like this could have easily been rectified by following what should be a standard practice in the game--reviewing close calls. Rather than have Bud Selig decide when he should/shouldn't apply his supreme power over the game, it would be smarter to put into place a system that won't let an event like this happen. It doesn't fix Galarraga's situation, but, more importantly, it helps improve the game of baseball.

Chauncy said...

Case: try the World Series - not the all-star Game, Phillies vs Rays, look it up.

Time for instant replay girls and boys...

Ed Tracey said...

I like Ken Burns as a film-maker but he unfortunately falls into the "rapture" type of baseball fanatic. "Sixty feet and six inches! Ohmygod, what if the distance between bases was not a perfect 90 feet?!?"

And that's the sort of person who advocates the "human factor" or slipper slope argument. They're entitled to that viewpoint; just shouldn't get upset when other, less rapturous fans see it differently.

Dana King said...

I'm a purist. I think the greatest advance of the 21st Century is the steady demise of artificial turf, and I generally refer to the National League as "real baseball," and the American League as "overhand fastpitch."

That being said, John's solution is exactly the right way to go. If Selog wants to keep from unraveling the sweater, he can codify it: "The Commissioner reserves the right to overturn an umpires call on any occasion where the pitcher has retired all 26 batters in a game and an obviously incorrect umpiring decision prolongs what would other wise have been a perfect game, so long as the out come of this game will not be affected. (For example, if the game is a scoreless tie.);

Simple, and not likely to come up again for another 130 years. Like John said, Selig changed the rain-out rule for the postseason on the fly, because it was obviously the right thing to do. So is this.

Jim said...

Naysayers are missing John's point, these circumstances have never happened before in the 150+ year history of professional baseball and the odds of it happening again are off the chart. "Best Interest of Baseball" virtually always used in individual unique salutations. I don't understand why a written rule stands in the way of common sense. We're humans and have the ability to "reason" about things. Give the kid his perfect game.