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JUNE 3, 2010 10:46PM

The Perfect Game: Ruined?

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Over the course of the last two days, the great American pastime has had a rough time of it.

With 26 outs in a row recorded, Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians hit a ball into the gap between first and second base.  Armando Galarrago stood on the precipice of one of Baseball's most hallowed achievements - the perfect game.  Twenty-seven batters faced; twenty-seven batters retired.  Astonishingly his achievement would be the third perfect game this season.

First baseman Miguel Cabrera moved to his right, fielded the chopping grounder, then, threw to Galarrago who, by now, was covering the first base bag as Donald strained for an infield hit.

Jim Joyce, the experienced umpire, put himself in perfect position to make the call.

Then.  Pop!  Ball hits glove.  Thump!  Donald's foot hits the bag.  Joyce's arms are flung outward.  Safe!

What?  Safe?  

Galarrago has begun to celebrate, only to be stopped short upon hearing the call.  Clearly, the young pitcher on the edge of baseball immortality thought Donald was out.  So did Cabrera.  So did the fans.  The announcers.  The sports-writers.

And after the replay.  So did Joyce, who apologized for his blown call. 

A perfect game ruined!

And once again, the clamoring for "instant review" in baseball rises up. In Major League Baseball, review of home runs is already allowed.  Over the course of the last two days, many have argued that plays like the one that ended the Detroit-Cleveland game should be subject to review, as well.


First of all, I watched the replay.  Several times.  One could make a case that Galarrago did not have full control of the ball in the first place.  Yes, his foot hit the bag before Donald's, but, did he really have full control of the ball?

Secondly, Joyce thought his call was correct.  He argued as much.  Didn't reverse his call until he saw the replay.  Which is perhaps why he did not appeal to any other umpires after the call was made.

Thirdly, no other umpire stepped forward to challenge the call or ask for a conference, which is within their rights to do.  It happens often.  Sometimes calls are reversed.

Here's a fourth point.  For those who want to use this call to justify instituting instant replay or a fifth umpire in a review booth, or any other changes that might have reversed this call, let me simply offer this.

Baseball ain't perfect!  Which makes it the perfect game.

I am biased, I know.  I don't like instant replay in football.  I don't like review in tennis, in basketball, and, I am not a big fan of it in hockey.  I will give the NHL this, however.  A goal can be reviewed, but, only after play is stopped within the flow of the game.  In hockey, fans "naturally" wait for the review.  The game has come to a halt anyway.

Now, however, we make fans wait.  We make fans and players wait so that the game will be fair.  We make fans wait so that no fans will leave thinking their team was screwed.

Heaven help us if we have to press on in spite of human error, bad judgment, blown calls or perceived adversity! 

Sport is about human endeavor and achievement.  It is about overcoming the odds.  It is about the ability of the human spirit to overcome the adversities of human limitation.  It is about athletes pushing themselves past the barriers, and doing so within the confines of whichever sport they find themselves in.

Baseball is game wrought with peril.  For instance, the measure of a great hitter is the fact that he can hit safely in three out of ten trips to the plate. Seven out of ten times that player walks away disappointed.  

Close plays are part of the game.  An exciting part.  Umpires are given the immense task of making sure the game  follows the rules.  And they are given the task of deciding who is out and who is safe, who has stayed within those rules and who has not.  There is always the chance they will get it wrong.  But that, too, is part of the peril of baseball.

So, now, there are those who want to interject technology; who want to invoke instant review.  A technology, mind you, that did not exist when, for instance, Don Larson through a called third strike to Dale Mitchell in that most perfect games of perfect games - Larson's World Series no-hitter perfect game in 1956.  It was argued that the ball was high and outside.

I suppose we could have stopped the game at that point.  Played the review of the pitch and an umpire in the replay booth could have overturned it.  I suppose, since the World Series was on the line, we could have gotten it right.

In a perfect world, I suppose.

But, this is not a perfect world.

And that is the beauty of baseball.  It's played in an not-so-perfect world, by not-so-perfect players and officiated by not-so-perfect umpires.

And that, my friends, is why it is the perfect game. 

 -picture courtesy of CBS Sportsline

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First off- Nice new avatar, it is nice to see you showing you own picture... You should write a poem, and use the other one for the picture.. Just an idea. Liked I that photo, it added mystery and artistic all in one. So you need to use it in a poem or something... grins...

EXCELLENT post..Very enjoyable to read. But anything that to has to do with sports, I am totally tuned in.. I have got to get that damn dish hook up.. Because I miss watching sports.
Thanks for the suggestion, fireeyes. I will strongly consider it! Yesssss you need to get that dish hooked up. *s*

Thank you for the great comment.
Yes I do need to get it hooked up, it has been driving me crazy without my sports..
I like the new one, showing your true you. But the other photos, was haunting beautiful, and so very artistic. It made a state all on its' own.
Want to thank you for the nice comment on my post.. {{HUGS}} Thank you!
I found myself here by chance, and although I don't know much about, nor follow baseball, your post has been very interesting read for me. I especially like your comparison between the game and sportsmanship. ~R~
Thank you, Sheila and FusunA.
Frustrating in its imperfection, but you are right!
CONGRATS!!!! On your first EP... I bet you are pumped up and ready to take off... I just had to come back and tell you congrats.. are so right. And to remove that frustration is to take away from the perfection of the game.

thank you fireeyes!!!

Great comments seer. Baseball is life. So, why try to soften it up??
First off, congrats on the EP, and on a late night piece? The new Ed must stay up later!! ;D

Second off, I think in baseball, there should be the addition of land mines. Make it more interesting!! For both sides!! ;)

Thirdly, great piece!!!!!
Thanks, Tink!

Land mines!!! Laughing here!!!! Had not thought of those!!
To borrow from Annie Savoy in Bull Durham--baseball is a linear construct played in abstract terrain. As such, a perfect game is not possible. Would a true perfect game require 81 pitches--all strikes or just 27 pitches producing 27 outs.
Nothing in life or sport is perfect.
Except for the 300 game in bowling.
So true, Mr Fawkes. A great movie, I might add. And, I have bowled that perfect game. It was amazing!!
Since no one has said it, I will - "There's no crying in baseball!"* Or football, soccer, hockey, basketball. Well, there may be some hissy fits in tennis but...I agree with your point about the perfection of the imperfection. Technology intrudes and we may as well just field robots to entertain us.

Great post! Well deserved EP ! The crowd goes wild!!!!!!!!!!!!!

* Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own
Great post but I missed that game so not able to really comment on it.
Nice to see a face to put with the writing. Smile - It is all good. Jali.
Great post and well written. I will however, beg to differ. I LIKE the instant replay and think it is necessary to eliminate plain stupid human error. I understand your point - don't get me wrong - it is a game of coulda woulda shoulda, which can add to some the excitement of the game. But with Galaragga's game ruined by a blatantly bad call - I say - replay. By the way - I only picked up baseball again recently - and was a big Andres Galaraga fan. Is this his son? I used to be an Expos fan.
Linnnn - Thank you! Yes!!! And, I have to say, Galarraga was incredible in his handling of this. Disappointed, yes. Crying? No! I love that movie!!

Jali - Thank you! Great to see you.
madcelt - I don't think so. But, will investigate that! I would imagine there would be those who differ with me. In fact, there is a wonderful column in the NY Times on this. The column features the perspectives of several, including Jim Bunting and Keith Olbermann. You might want to read it.
I'm not a huge baseball fan but I did see the news about the poor pitcher and how he was robbed of the perfect game. I loved this,
"Baseball ain't perfect! Which makes it the perfect game". And your points persuaded me.
Thank you, Mary. It will definitely go down as one of those storied finishes.
If you knew anything about baseball you wouldn't have written this: "Baseball is game wrought with peril. For instance, the measure of a great hitter is the fact that he can hit safely in three out of ten trips to the plate. Seven out of ten times that player walks away disappointed."

A great hitter--a Joe Dimaggio, a Ted Williams, a Hank Aaron, a Barry Bonds, an Albert Pujols--will be walked at least once every six at bats and will hit plenty of sac flies as well. So he is "disappointed" less than seven times in an average twelve at bats, a success rate of nearly 50%, not the measly 30% this author calculates.
Point well taken, Shane, however, the level of disappointment varies, don't you think?

Those great hitters, while they do walk and hit their fair share of sac flies, are and were also wired to hit! How many of those walks are done intentionally in order to keep them from hitting?

And who would not a home run, or an extra base hit, in a key situation?

I believe it was Ted William who was quoted as saying, "baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer."
RAR ... I hear you, but I can see both sides ... and a 3rd. Had this event taken place in an earlier inning ... say the 4th ... there'd be no debate. Well written; good points! {{{R}}}

@ Shane ... Sacs and walks are not counted as "at bats" in determining batting avg. So 3 in 10 "at bats" is what it is, even if the batter walked an additional 6 times. Sacs are not "at bats" but to be one, must produce a run ... 'cept bunts ... and all of that is taken into account in On Base Percentage. So RARs point stands on its own, a hitter IS disdappoint 7 of 10 times he has a *recorded* at bat, and is well within any perameters of the game.
I'm really getting tired of hearing about this. As is typical in our millimeter-deep society, no is looking at the larger picture: if there was one blown call in the game, there could have been several, any one of which may have resulted in a batter's being ruled out when, in fact, he was actually safe -- the diametric opposite of what happened on umpire Jim Joyce's call in the 9th inning.

If this is, indeed, the case, then it would render the call in question moot, and until a full review of game video is conducted to make sure it didn't happen, then calls for Commissioner Lite Selig to reverse Joyce's call are not only premature, but destructive of the integrity that some of us would like to imagine still infuses the game of baseball.
(With apologies to Mr. Fawkes.) A perfect game would be somebody paying me fifteen million dollars to play it.

In the meantime, that one should have been scored a no-hitter, the only base runner being safe at first on an error by the umpire.
It really wasn't perfect. I'm actually an old veteran umpire ...really! I kid you not! [25 yrs., HS, college, minors/rookie leagues] I can honestly see how he missed the call---he was just slightly too aligned with play. He needed a bit more angle off the rt foul line to see it with the correct depth perspective. Know what I'm saying? Now I'm not justifying the call---he blew it! But I saw why he blew it. Sometimes, as a field umpire, your position on a bang-bang play creates a slight distortion; a wee optical phenomenon that biases the timing. Anyways---he's going to get the perfect game listing. I'd bet that cadaverous old troll Bud Selig's job on it. [I'm not a big fan of the misguided, ambitious commish.]
To fireeyes and RARoberts~
I recommend a Roku Video Streaming HD box[needs a hi-speed internet hook up] with an online $19.95/month of MLB.TV. I get all games plus I can access archives held for up to a week of any game. The HD is great and you can chose either an AWAY or HOME feed. It's awesome and fairly cheap too.
Baseball Fanatic, SABRE member and Historian, Red Sox fan.
RAR: Nicely done, and congrats on the cover (though note that such attracts the spambots . . . ). I was most impressed by the character shown by Joyce and Gallaraga--and Tigers' fans, for that matter, who gave Joyce a standing ovation the next day, after he'd been a man and admitted his error. Perhaps why baseball attracts more good writing than other sports (like this example): the humanity of it reflects the values of the humanities.
It's really sad what happened. I feel sorry for the ump and the pitcher. But I have to say -- something would be soooo strange if baseball had instant replay. It just seems WRONG. I mean it just feels wrong. But then I admit to resisting most technology... can't believe I now blog, for instance. Baseball seems a vestige of a sweet old slice of Americana that would be best preserved with imperfections and no instant replay. Funny, I haven't really followed baseball since the 84 Tigers but this whole situation makes me want to watch the old-school game more while it lasts!!! Before it gets corrupted with new rules and instant replay.
Different game, same lesson. When a boy claimed he was not "out" LBW (leg before wicket), the Head quoted a famous Yorkshire cricketer Freddie Truman. "Ah lad, but think of all the times you were out and didn't get called".
It's not only a game, it is a lesson in the vagaries of life and as such far more valuable.
I am in total agreement with you. I played baseball for 20 years and umpired baseball for 15 years. And both are as challenging as they are rewarding. Joyce's call at first is without doubt the most difficult call for a first base umpire to make. The throw is coming from behind him. You cannot get the preferred 45 degree angle of sight. The pitcher is coming across the bag at the same time as the runner. The umpire has to watch 2 feet and the ball (in a "normal" play the first baseman's foot is "anchored" to the bag so the only foot really being watched is the runner's). It's a bitch of a call.
The only disagreement I have with you is that other umpires do not step in and "overrule" a call. The umpire with responsibility for the call needs to ask for a "conference". In this instance the plate umpire would have had the 2nd best angle followed by the 3rd base umpire if he had pulled onto the infield grass.
Baseball is a game made perfect by its imperfection. On a good day as an umpire calling balls and strikes I would have a "tolerance" of about 1/4 inch on the inside edge of the plate, 1 1/2" on the outside and 1 inch on height. On a "bad" day my tolerance might be 1" on the inside edge of the plate, 2 1/2 on the outside edge and 2" on height. That is imperfection. And professional umpires have about the same tolerances. You go by "impressions" seldom having time to actually think.
Too bad Joe Kinsella never wrote a book about umpires. And to quote Chico Escuela, "base-a-ball hab been berry good to me".
Outstanding post.
Pete and Walter........thanks for your comments.

Walter, thank you, point well taken on the conference. Your experience is well noted and well taken.

So IS made perfect by it's imperfection. As is life, I suppose.
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Great take on the calls, both by Joyce and Selig. For once Selig gets it right. Lots of calls occur during a game that subtly may contribute to the outcome. The umpire might have a wide, narrow, high or low strike zone that plays to a particular pitcher's strengths. A blown strike call on a 2 and 1 count in the second inning could give the pitcher an unfair advantage. And if Selig changes the ruling or Galarraga, what about Hooks Wiltse? (This is from Wikipedia, and I haven't verified it)

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; his ten-inning no-hitter set a record for longest complete game no-hitter that has been tied twice but never broken.

And then there's Harvey Haddix, whose 12 perfect innings in a single game don't count because he lost in the 13th. No perfect game.

There are lots of quirks in baseball, and I'm with you. Let them stand as is. Harvey Haddix has his 12 perfect innings, and Arnando Galarraga will be remembered for his wonderful outlook on the blown call as well as for his near-perfect game. If Selig changed the ruling, the focus would shift to him. By refusing to change it, the focus remains on Galaragga, the guy who "shoulda had it."

Hooray for baseball!
charlie.....great take on this. Thank you!!