May 27, 2020

That’s Just Me, I Like to Get the Question Right

June 3, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Armando Galarraga should have pitched a perfect game.  He should have retired twenty-seven batters in a row.  He should have joined the twenty other pitchers in Major League history to have accomplished this feat.

He didn’t.  Instead he got screwed.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime, overwhelmingly improbable, shockingly emotional screw-job comparable to when Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels conspired to steal Bret the Hitman Hart’s World Championship in 1997.

One instant, Galarraga was beyond the velvet ropes of Toots Shor’s, rubbing elbows with Frankie and Dino.  The next, he found himself in the drive through of the local Taco Bell.

Galarraga, offending umpire Jim Joyce, and the entire Tigers organization should be commended for the grace with which they have handled this turn of events.  Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland commented after the game on the unprecedented turn of events that robbed his young right-hander of immortality.

I’m sure somebody is going to say, “If they had replay on that play, the kid would have had a perfect game.”  Somebody will say something about that, but not me…That’s just the human element.  It’s a good element.  The umpires do a great job.  There’s no question about that.  They are right a whole lot.

Leyland’s not wrong.  Baseball umpires have to deal with a game that progresses in moments of explosive action that take place in fractions of a second.  Most of the time, shockingly, they nail the call.  It’s a thankless job in that we expect them to be like children raised in the Puritan societies of the 1700s—seen, but not heard.  The fact that I had never heard of Jim Joyce prior to last night’s debacle, as opposed to the bastions of hubris and incompetence that are Joe West and Angel Hernandez, speaks volumes for his resume.  However, he’s now going to be forever known as that guy that blew that kid’s perfect game.

It’s unfair.  It’s unfair to Galarraga.  It’s unfair to Joyce.  It’s unfair to baseball fans everywhere who could not even conceive the possibility of witnessing three perfectos in one season.

Blame the human element and the baseball brass and traditionalists who cling to those two words like an aged jogger who refuses to trade in his walkman for an iPod.  What really boils my potatoes about this whole situation is the hypocrisy of the people who run professional baseball.

These snake-oil salesmen have, from one side of their mouths, espoused the traditions and integrity of the game in their opposition to instant replay, and from the other side, mortgaged that integrity as chemically induced superstars made a mockery of the very statistics and numbers that comprise that very integrity.  In 1985, when Don Denkinger cost the Royals the World Series, technology had not reached the point where we could instantaneously recognize and rectify his mistake.  We had to chalk the Cardinals’ victory up to the machinations of the baseball gods and the human fallibility involved in officiating a game of inches.

For as long as I can remember, baseball people have referred to the human element of baseball as if it were some irremovable, all-powerful mea culpa.  I never understood this.  When Michael Brown, director of FEMA, responded to the tragedy that was Katrina with all the urgency of a 60-year-old strolling down the driveway to pick up his morning paper, did we attribute it to the human element of running a federally funded national aid agency?  When I total the grades of my students at the end of the school year, do I use long addition and an abacus?  No, I use a calculator and a spreadsheet, limiting the human element of grade calculation.

Technology has reached a point where, provided with seven minutes, a tripod, a flip cam, and a few willing parents with smart phones, I can MacGyver up a surprisingly effective and accurate instant replay system for the team of sixth graders I coach.  You’re telling me the billion-dollar industry that is Major League Baseball can’t do something similar?  Add a fifth umpire to the traditional four-man crew, put him in the press box, let him be the official scorer and the replay official that makes the final ruling on any close play.  That way we keep the official scoring system objective and provide a quick and efficient means of oversight for a particularly harrowing job.

For some reason, baseball always sacrifices progress for some obscure notion of purity and tradition.  In my opinion, accurate officiating is as pure as one can get.  I’ll always remember the Calculus teacher I had in my senior year of high school, who, after taking us through a particularly challenging series of formulas and mathematical steps, would say, “That’s just me, I like to get the question right.”  Shouldn’t that be our goal here?

Ultimately, when people argue that the human element of baseball should be preserved, I wonder if they know what they’re trying to save.  An older gentleman often umpires the games of my sixth-grade team.  Let’s call him “T.”  While my expectations of an 80-plus-year-old man umping middle school baseball games are already pretty low, T still manages to surprise me.  He stands behind the pitcher, calls strikes with a raise of his right hand, calls balls with a raise of his left, and once called a pitch by raising both his right and his left hands simultaneously.  He’s in his eighties, so it’s unrealistic to expect him to get in the correct position on a play in the field.  He coaches the pitchers, incorrectly tinkering with their mechanics, and will not stop with the people he knows between innings despite the fact that our league will not allow us to start an inning after 5 PM.

T is the epitome of the human element of baseball.

I’m for anything that limits T’s role in deciding a baseball game.

But that’s just me, I like to get the question right.


3 Responses to “That’s Just Me, I Like to Get the Question Right”
  1. Devon Young says:

    I agree that the human element isn’t unchangeable.

    The “human element” actually says “change can occur here”, but nobody in charge seems to recognize that. After all, isn’t it human to change your mind? Or change something for the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it? Machines and computers, don’t have those capabilities (yet?). I don’t know why they don’t allow an umpire to change a call like that after the game. An official scorer has 24 hours to change a hit or an error or whatever, but an umpire WHO ADMITS HE WAS WRONG AND REGRETS IT, isn’t allowed to say they change their call later?

    We’ve all seen umpires on occasion huddle up and talk a play over, and then change the call. It happens. changing a call, is part of the human element of the situation.

    There’s only a lack of human element, in forcing the lie to exist in the stat books by not reversing the call!

    I keep thinking back to how MLB overruled an umpire who had the call correct, (see: pine tar). If they can do that, then why won’t they overrule or overturn a call that isn’t correct? What’s in it for them?

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    The problem I have with overturning calls is that it has to work both ways. If Joyce had called the runner out and he’d actually been safe, would anyone demand that the commissioner step in and reverse the call, thus taking a perfect game away from Jimenez? I seriously doubt it.

  3. Josh Deitch says:

    I’m not saying the commissioner should have the power to overturn a call after the game is over. Joyce screwed up, a 28th player hit, perfecto gone, case closed. But, it’s 2010, we should have a system in place that could have immediately told Joyce he was incorrect, overturned the call, and put Galarraga on that exclusive list of perfect game authors.

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