Thursday, June 3, 2010


Consider Ernie Shore and Harvey Haddix:

On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth, then a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, walked the Washington Senators' first batter, Ray Morgan, on four straight pitches. Ruth, who had already been shouting at umpire Brick Owens about the quality of his calls, became even angrier and, in short order, was ejected. Enraged, Ruth charged Owens, swung at him, and had to be led off the field by a policeman. Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth. Morgan was caught stealing by Sox catcher Pinch Thomas on the first pitch by Shore, who proceeded to retire the next 26 batters. All 27 outs were made while Shore was on the mound.
On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched what is often referred to as the greatest game in baseball history. Haddix carried a perfect game through an unprecedented 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves, only to have it ruined when an error by third baseman Don Hoak allowed Felix Mantilla, the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 13th inning, to reach base. A sacrifice by Eddie Matthews and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron followed; the next batter, Joe Adcock, hit a home run that became a double when he passed Aaron on the bases. Haddix and the Pirates had lost the game 1–0; despite their 12 hits in the game, they could not bring a run home. The 12 perfect innings—36 consecutive batters retired in a single game—remains a record. (source: Wikipedia)
Shore was the pitcher of record for 27 consecutive outs; Haddix went perfectly through the opposition's line-up four times rather than three, yet neither man can claim an official Perfect Game.  Shore is credited with a combined no-hitter with Ruth; Haddix wound up being unceremoniously marked down as losing pitcher for his performance.  Talk about heartbreak on the ball field!

Add the name Armando Galarraga to that list.  Last night, the Tigers pitcher was perfect in the eyes of everyone but one lone umpire.  That umpire has already realized his mistake and owned up to it, but the result cannot be changed, and in the MLB books, Galarraga's Perfect Game will forever be recorded as a one-hit shutout.

The text from ESPN popped up on my iPhone last night that Galarraga had a Perfect Game going through 8 innings.  With two Perfect Games already in the books this year, this was simply amazing.  Quickly I flipped the TV over to the MLB Network and found that they were carrying the live feed of the game, now in the bottom of the 8th.  I settled in expecting to watch history unfold.  It did, but not quite the way everyone thought it would.

As Galarraga took the mound in the top of the 9th, the feeling that something special was happening crackled in the air - it was visible through the TV screen!  The first Cleveland batter, Mark Grudzielanek, lofted a fly ball to deep left-center. It looked bound for the gap to be a game-spoiling hit, but Detroit's Austin Jackson appeared to defy physics as he made an astounding Willie-Mays-esque catch to keep the Perfect Game alive. After Mike Redmond grounded out, all that stood between Galarraga and bseball history was Jason Donald.

Oh, and Jim Joyce.

Donald tapped a grounder between first and second, which firtsbaseman Miguel Cabrera fielded cleanly and threw to first where Galarraga was covering. It's a routine infield play, practiced ad nauseum by players of all levels, from Little League ball to the majors. Galarraga and the ball convened at the bag a full step before Donald arrived for the out, and the Perfect Game.

Except umpire Jim Joyce, to the astonishment of every other living being watching the play, called Donald safe.

"It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the *** out of it," Joyce said after the game. "I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

Galarraga retired the next batter to end the game, but because of Joyce's blown call, what should have been a Perfect Game instead goes into the books as a one-hit shutout. Instead of throwing the 21st Perfect Game in MLB history, Armando Galarraga becomes the 10th pitcher to have a potential Perfect Game spoiled by the 27th batter.

Immediately, the chorus of voices have risen declaring the need for instant replay in Major League Baseball. There is a petition to have Bud Selig overturn Joyce's ruling and credit Galarraga with a Perfect Game - something that has never been done in the history of baseball. But, the argument goes, this situation has never occured before in Major League Baseball.

Au contraire! There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun:
On July 4, 1908, Hooks Wiltse of the New York Giants hit Philadelphia Phillies pitcher George McQuillan on a 2–2 count in a scoreless game—the only time a 0–0 perfect game has been broken up by the 27th batter. Umpire Cy Rigler later admitted that he should have called the previous pitch strike 3. Wiltse pitched on, winning 1–0
You see, one of the things that sets baseball apart from the other sports is its intrinsic fallibility; it's reliance not on mechanical clocks and instant replays but on human judgment.  It is these very foibles that give the Grand Old Game its personality, that make it a joy (sometimes a heartbreaking joy, but a joy nonetheless) to watch; that create the legends that are passed down from generation to generation.  To remove that aspect of the game would be to remove the heart and soul of baseball.  It would become just another sterile, faceless sport.  Because we can go back and change calls based on what technology tells us does not mean we should, and I remain a staunch believer that the game of baseball should not fall victim to the technology of the day, but should remain a game of gentlemen agreed to be played based on the call of an impartial, human, umpire.

Jim Joyce is not the first umpire to boot a call so badly, nor will he be the last.  By all accounts, Joyce is one of the best umpires in the game.  But he is human, and he did make a mistake.  Give him credit for owning up to it, even though nothing could be done at that point to change the result.  Armando Galarraga accepted Joyce's apology after the game.  He did not speak ill of him at all to the press afterwards.  Tigers Manager Jim Leyland expressed his disappointment without raking Joyce over the coals for making what he thought was the right call, even though he later admitted being wrong.  All involved acted with great class and dignity. Those who today are still clamoring for Joyce's head in vile expletive-filled shouts should ask themselves why they aren't conducting themselves with similar class.

Galarraga's teammates still gave him a champagne shower after the game, and in the minds of many of us who watched, we saw the game's first 28-out Perfect Game.  And somewhere, Ernie Shore and Harvey Haddix are smiling.  They have company now.
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  1. I honestly do not understand this mindset in the slightest bit. The heart and soul of baseball is human error? Baseball is great because some people get a warm and fuzzy feeling when gross lapses in judgment can rip rightfully earned achievements from what _should_ be the firm grip of reality?

    PLEASE. If _that_ is what makes baseball great, then you can have the sport. The rest of us will move on to other sports that have decided that adding new technology to every area of the game _except_ when it comes to fair decision-making is at best irrational.

    I don't blame Jim Joyce for this game. He is, as so many people have put it, only human afterall. I blame MLB's (and supporters like you) ongoing disrespect of the players and fans by refusing to take the means necessary to ensure games are called fairly and accurately.

    We did not have the technology to do that in 1908. We do have the technology to do so today. The real tragedy here is human stubbornness; it isn't human error.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Court, but we're going to have to agree to disagree.

    If we accept your stance that we should use the technology we have to "ensure that games are called fairly and accurately," then let's take it all the way and replace the human players with computer simulations programmed to play infallibly. After all, the technology exists to do that as well, and if your wish is to improve sport through technology, then why not take it to its logical extreme?

    I realize I am in the minority in my opinion regarding instant replay in baseball, and I'll even concede that instant replay is more likely than not to become a part of the game, but I will always prefer the personality of the game we have to using technology to find that sterile perfection you seem to want to seek.