Jim Joyce, Armando Galarraga, and Bud Selig are not more important than the game itself. And each of those gentlemen has done a disservice to baseball by elevating themselves and a single play over the integrity of the game. Blown calls are a part of baseball. They are part of the history of the game, and will continue to be a part of baseball as long as human beings are used to make the judgments necessary to maintain a fair outcome — or as fair as it can be made given the limitations and lack of perfection in all of us.
If Joyce had to talk to the press, he could have said that he called it as he saw it and pretty much left it at that. It doesn’t matter if replays show a different outcome to the call. Umpires make their decisions and, right or wrong, that’s that. Rare is the umpire’s call that is overturned. If it is, the call is reversed by the crew chief usually after a huddle of all the umpires to determine if any of them saw the call another way.
Treating this one call any differently than the thousands of others he has made in his career is an error in judgment far worse than the missed call he made at first base. Rather than the focus being on the game, and the still-brilliant pitching performance of Galarraga (he pitched a 3-0 shutout), attention shifted to the umpire and his media mea culpa. Umpires should never be the the center of attention in baseball. That’s not their job, although some modern umpires don’t seem to understand that. In fact, Major League baseball just took the nearly unprecedented step of fining an umpire for bringing attention to himself in the aftermath of an incident in Chicago. Joyce should be fined for the same reason, regardless if he was “honest” or not.
Meanwhile, Galarraga is receiving kudos for his “sportsmanship” in not holding it against the umpire. Holy smokes, fella. Act like a human being (or at least a baseball player) rather than some Oprahfied dishrag of a professional athlete. In an age where parents discourage their kids from competing, where every kid who participates gets a reward, where there is less emphasis on winning and losing, Galarraga becomes a poster boy for modern American sports. I will take the attitude of a Vince Lombardi any day of the week over Galarraga and his milquetoast, touchy-feely sensibilities. I’d rather see him break his hand against the clubhouse wall by hitting it in frustration and anger following the game than smile like an idiotic gnome and play the role of national priest in forgiving Joyce his sin.
It’s not like there haven’t been blown calls in baseball that haven’t cost the offended side a lot more than personal glory. In an exact duplicate play of what happened the other night in Detroit, umpire Don Denkinger blew a call in the 9th inning at first base in the 1985 World Series that cost the St. Louis Cardinals a world championship. All Galarraga lost was a perfect game. The Cardinals lost it all.
Denkinger did not talk to the press afterward and never apologized for missing the call. It took many years but eventually, as is baseball’s way, the Cardinals embraced the history of that moment and actually began to invite Denkinger to reunions and other team events. “The Call,” as it has become known, is now a part of the baseball mythos where it is safe to take it out, relive it, examine it, and hold it lovingly in your hand as you contemplate the frailty of man and the breaks of the game.
If you want to feel bad for Galarraga, go ahead. Just don’t drag the rest of us into this treacly soap opera of supposedly high-minded ideals and weepy parables of forgiveness. Ty Cobb would have spit tobacco juice in Joyce’s eye and found a way to run into him while legging out a hit.
For my money, that would have been an excellent example to follow in this case.