From the Couch

28 batter perfect game

By - Jun 6th, 2010 04:00 am
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Commentary by contributor Martin Wenzel

Photo from Flicker Common Creatives, FXR 2008

The 2010 Major League Baseball season stopped dead in its tracks on Wednesday as a pitcher threw a gem, an umpire blew a call and both became role models in the world of sports. It also opened up a hornets nest concerning the instant replay’s place in the MLB.

Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga nearly threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history on June 2, what would have been the first in Tigers’ history. But then first base umpire Jim Joyce blew the “bang-bang” call on what should have been the game’s final batter.  For some inexplicable reason, Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe — despite the fact that Donald wasn’t even close —  costing Galarraga his perfect game.

Surprisingly, Galarraga handled the blown call with grace. He smiled and returned to the mound as his teammates and Detroit fans stood in disbelief. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland immediately rushed to confront Joyce.  Following a wild pitch, Galarraga retired the 28th Indians’ batter and settled for a one-hit shutout, though Detroit and much of baseball will recognize it as the first 28-batter perfect game.

After seeing the replays, Joyce realized what he’d done, and immediately apologized. The next day, he reported to work behind home plate at Comerica Ballpark, even though the MLB had offered him the day off.  He stepped onto the field with tears in his eyes and received cheers and jeers from the crowd. Galarraga presented the Tigers lineup card to Joyce, they shook hands and patted each other on the back.

An example for us all. Joyce owned up to his mistake; Galarraga didn’t throw tantrum and publicly forgave him.

Baseball has been incredibly slow to embrace technology to help make accurate calls on the field. Within the last few seasons, baseball permitted the use of replay to overturn calls connected with home runs. The MLB is filled with umpire gaffes and bad calls that the common couch potato can see, but Bud Selig refuses to give umpires the opportunity to review questionable calls on any type of play.

Joyce’s mistake was not the only close call  that night. The Mariners beat the Twins after Ichiro Suzuki hit the ball up the middle to Twins second baseman Matt Tolbert, who fielded it and flipped it to shortstop J.J. Hardy for the force-out at second.

Or so we thought.

Instead, Seattle’s Josh Wilson was called safe and Ryan Langerhans scored the game-winning run. Replays clearly show Wilson reaching the base after Hardy had the ball, but current rules do not allow for a review of the play and the Twins lost the game.

A number of commentators think  if Selig would overturn the call and award Galarraga a perfect game, it would be like opening Pandora’s Box. The same has been said of introducing expanded replays. I think this is a perfect case where Selig should step in. The umpire admitted to blowing the call, everyone knows it was a bad call and changing it would only affect three players’ stats — Galarraga, Donald and Trevor Crowe.

The question is whether or not this would have been as big a deal if it had happened in the middle of the game and not the final out. Probably not I’m guessing, unless Galarraga had pitched around the mistake and retired the rest of the batters, in which case everyone would have patted him on the back for a great one-hitter.

As for replays, the MLB should implement a system similar to the NFL where each manager would have one challenge per game. Maybe then we would see  a more civilized exchange between managers and umps instead of the current practice, which is essentially just a shouting match until the manager has to be ejected from the game. Also, allowing only one challenge will maintain the human element and will prevent every single play from being challenged.

Additionally, like the NFL, a man in the booth could also call for a review (especially in light of the fact that both managers will likely have used their challenges before an extremely pivotal call). The booth review would have come in handy at the end of the Twins-Mariners game.

Some calls are just too big to be left up to human judgment in the heat of the moment.

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