A tragedy it was, they say.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga stood one out away from baseball immortality. Twenty-six Cleveland Indians batters had stepped up to the plate and all twenty-six failed to reach base. Considering the vagaries of the game — broken-bat pop-ups falling in the outfield for a hit; weak ground balls batted absolutely perfectly, squeaking through the infield for a “seeing eye” single; or the temporary loss of control by the pitcher resulting in a walk — Mr. Galarraga was one lucky chucker. The baseball gods seemed to be conspiring to give him only the 21st perfect game in Major League history — if only he could prevent Cleveland pinch hitter Jason Donald from reaching base.
With a count of one ball and one strike, Donald — now, forever, and always a part of baseball lore — swung and hit a slow bouncing ball to the right side of the infield. Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera ranged far to his right to snare the ball and pivoting smartly, threw to Galarraga who was charging toward first base from the pitcher’s mound to cover.
Sprinting down the line, Donald stretched out his foot to make contact with the base, only to have the ball and Galarraga beat him to it. Donald was clearly out by half a step. But 23-year veteran umpire Jim Joyce inexplicably called Donald safe at first to the chagrin of Galarraga, Cabrera, and every fan in the stadium.
I must say that Galarraga has handled the blown call extremely well. In fact, too well. Galarraga was seen smiling broadly, which I suppose is the reaction of a man who wants to cry but doesn’t want to break down in front of 30,000 people. I can imagine what Don Drysdale or the fearsome St. Louis Cardinals hurler Bob Gibson would have done following such an outrage. The next batter that stepped to the plate had better have been prepared to duck as the very next pitch would have been in their ear.
To this point, what we have is something that occurs with great regularity in sports: a stone-cold blown call by an official whose job it is to make the right call on every play. The dilemma of umps, refs, linesmen, and judges was best summed up by old-school baseball umpire Nestor Chylak, who once said, “The way I see it, an umpire must be perfect on the first day of the season and then get better every day.”
But it is what occurred after the game, and continues today, that is both disturbing and maddening. Mr. Galarraga has been elevated to victim status, because for the millionth time in baseball history an umpire blew a call at first base. “But it was a perfect game,” Galarraga partisans argue. “Surely something must be done. Surely this injustice must be rectified. Surely we must take this to the commissioner and ask him to overturn the call and give the perfect game to Galarraga.”
Surely, you’re joking.
As a metaphor for the current state of American society, it is almost too perfect. A result occurs with which someone isn’t pleased, and immediately we run to government to beg for relief, as Zombie’s latest post highlights. Government has become the arbiter — and, more ominously, the enforcer — of fairness and justice. The problem is that one man’s fairness is another’s unfairness. To rectify unfairness, government usually takes from somebody and gives to someone else in a highly arbitrary manner. And justice, no matter how well intentioned, is a subjective matter that depends largely on the point of view of those asking for relief.
What’s the point of asking Commissioner Bud Selig to overturn a call made in good faith by a professional umpire? Joyce wasn’t on the take, or drunk, or conspiring with Cleveland to deny Mr. Galarraga his place in history. He got it wrong. So what? Life is unfair and baseball may be the unkindest of games next to golf.
Indeed, they call it the “rub o’ the green” in golf. Stuff happens, so accept it and move on. Nothing you can do about. And running to Daddy Selig crying that it’s just NOT FAIR that Galarraga was robbed of glory because Jim Joyce is human and not able to avail himself of slow motion replay in real time is unseemly and not worthy of the traditions and history of the game.
Joyce’s reaction to all this has been unbelievable. He is being praised from one end of the country to the other for his “honesty” in admitting his mistake. He should be fined, suspended, and prevented from working either the postseason or the All-Star Game. Not for missing the call but for undermining his and every other umpire’s credibility by actually talking to the press about it in the first place, and then not having the courage to stand by his decision made in real time on the field. Instead, he blubbered like a two-year-old about being sorry for ruining Galarraga’s moment.