It is hard to know where to begin in discussing what will be known forever as Armando Galarraga’s imperfect game. Or maybe it will be known as Jim Joyce’s imperfect game because it was the umpire who broke up Galarraga’s perfect effort not the pitcher or a Cleveland Indians hitter.
By now everyone has seen the replay. Last night, in Comerica Park, Galarraga, who didn’t even begin the season in The Major Leagues after an injury-plagued 2009, retired the first 26 Indians. He got the first out of the ninth inning on an extraordinary running catch in centerfield by Austin Jackson on a long fly ball by Mark Grudzielanek. Jackson had his back to the plate on a play that looked a little bit like Willie Mays’s catch on Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series, the difference being there was no one on base for Jackson to turn around and double up.
But it was against the Indians and it certainly seemed that fate and history were riding with Galarraga at that moment. (It was also a reminder that the Yankees may long regret trading Jackson). Galarraga got the second out easily and up to the plate came shortstop Jason Donald. He hit a grounder wide of first that Miguel Cabrera ranged right to field. Cabrera fed Galarraga and there it was, the 21st perfect game in history—the third (remarkably) this season.
Except that Joyce blew the call. Just flat out missed what was a routine call for a Major League umpire, especially a respected 22-year-veteran. You could see him start up with his arm for an instant, then change his mind and give the safe signal. Why he did that, what he thought he saw at that moment, is a question that will haunt him for a long, long time.
To his credit, Joyce didn’t try to duck and cover when the game was over—as many umpires and officials do after they blow a call. He made no excuses. “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” he said. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.”
Sadly, it was. Joyce can get every call right for the rest of his life and he’s never going to get past this. Don Denkinger certainly never got past his horribly blown call at first base in the 1985 World Series. That call came in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 with the Cardinals leading 1-0. Jorge Orta led off for the Royals and hit a ground ball wide of first (sound familiar?) that Jack Clark fielded and fed to pitcher Todd Worrell. Denkinger called Orta safe when he was clearly out. From there, the Royals built a two-run rally, aided by a passed ball and pinch-hitter Dane Iorg’s two run single, to win 2-1. They then won game 7 in a rout, 11-0.
As badly as Denkinger blew the call, the Cardinals still had chances to win, just as the Red Sox had a game seven (and led 3-0 in the sixth inning) in the 1986 World Series after Bill Buckner booted Mookie Wilson’s grounder to end game six. What’s more, the Mets had already tied the score when Buckner made his error so even if he had made the play, the game would not have been over.
This was game over. No ifs ands or buts. Joyce denied Galarraga a perfect game and there’s nothing that can be done to change that. Like Joyce, Denkinger had a distinguished career as an umpire—he worked in the big leagues for 30 years and was assigned to four World Series and multiple All-Star games and League Championship Series before and after, ‘The Call,’—but his legacy is that call. The same will be true of Joyce although one can only hope he won’t receive death threats the way Denkinger did. His willingness to admit his mistake instantly should help him. He even went so far as to ask to speak to Galarraga to personally apologize to him and was reportedly near tears talking about what had happened. Galarraga said after the game that he forgave him. If Galarraga forgives him, the rest of the world should too.
Of course the blown call will again raise questions about both umpiring and instant replay. Put simply, umpiring needs to be better. There are too many blown calls and too many hot heads umpiring games. When an umpire goes off, the way Joe West did a week ago on Mark Buehrle; the way Bill Hohn did recently on Roy Oswalt; HE should be subject to public discipline just as the player might be. Bad umpires should be demoted and/or fired the same way bad players are demoted and/or fired. Good ones should be given raises.
Replay is a far more controversial topic. No one wants to see baseball games take any longer than they already take. (The game in Detroit last night lasted one hour and 44 minutes, proving that with good pitching and batters standing in the box and hitting, games don’t have to take forever). But there is a way to allow replay for calls like this one without any major delays.
First, take replay out of the umpiring crew’s hands. Under the current rule, if there is a home run call in question, the four umpires all go back to their locker room, call up the replay, discuss it and then come out and announce the call. That’s not the way to do it.
The way to do it is to have a fifth umpire in a replay booth—just like in football—who has the authority if he sees a call that looks WRONG—not questionable, WRONG—to contact the home plate umpire and say, ‘give me a minute to look at this.’ Obviously balls-and-strikes would never be involved in replay. In fact, there should only be three circumstances when replay could be invoked: home runs, out/safe; catch or no catch. It would be nice to add fair/foul to that list but once an umpire calls a ball foul, you can’t go back and restart the play.
If a play is bang-bang or too close to call in any way, the call stands. If the press box ump looks at all angles and can’t tell right away a mistake was made, the call on the field stands. There should never be a delay of more than two minutes. Last night it would not have taken that long for the call to be corrected.
If a call is clearly wrong—as with Joyce last night—the fifth umpire lets the plate umpire know. How much do you think Jim Joyce wishes that system was in place last night? Ninety-nine percent of the officials I’ve met in sports through the years are good guys who want to get it right. I have no doubt that Joyce falls into that category.
All of us make mistakes in our jobs. The number of times I’ve been bailed out by editors is uncountable. Other times, I haven’t been bailed out and had to correct a mistake—including one in which I identified the wrong umpire on a blown call in the 1992 World Series. I felt pretty sick about that one. The only saving grace was that there was another printing to get it right.
Umpires don’t get another printing and they don’t have editors. But they CAN have some backup in the press box. Major League Baseball put in replay in midseason a couple of years ago, it can expand it and improve it in midseason now. It won’t give Armando Galarraga his perfect game back or keep Jim Joyce out of baseball history, but in all likelihood it will make the game better—for players, for umpires and for fans.
The imperfect game overshadowed a remarkable day in sports: Ken Griffey Jr. retired after a remarkable career that should be given its due on another day; Serena Williams lost at The French Open and gave no credit to her opponent (surprise) and The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime to close the gap to 2-1 in The Stanley Cup Finals. Oh, in case you’ve forgotten, the NBA Finals start tonight after a FIVE-day layoff. I’m not sure which will end first, The NBA Finals or The World Cup.
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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