What is the Cost of Perfection?

Last night I sat glued to the television like many baseball fans throughout the country. The MLB Network had just cut in to show the final inning of the Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Indians game. The game itself was relatively meaningless to the overall standings like most games played in early June of a 162-game schedule.

The interest in this game was the fact that Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was within three outs of a perfect game. Major League Baseball had already witnessed two perfect games this season and three over a one year time period. This had never happened in the history of baseball and the nation was about to see history made.

Baseball is an interesting game. You never know who the Baseball Gods will select to bestow immortality upon. It never seems to be the people you would expect. This time it looked as though Galarraga was the chosen one.

A no-hitter is rare and a perfect game even rarer. It is not just a pitcher dominating their opponent; it takes a whole team to make a perfect game. A missed catch here or a bobble there would all it would take to destroy perfection.

Usually you can point to one play and realize tonight is going to be something special. Sometimes that moment occurs early in a game while at other times it may be the last play. In last night’s game I thought that moment was a Mark Grudzielanek fly ball to deep center field when Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson did his best impression of Willie Mays making an over the shoulder catch to maintain the perfect game.

Mike Redmond was the next batter and he promptly grounded out to the shortstop who threw to first to record the second out and set the stage for what Tigers fans hoped would be a celebration of the first perfect game in Tigers history.

Batter Jason Donald took a called strike and then a ball evening the count at 1-1. The next pitch was hit into the hole between first and second. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera ranged over to pick up the grounder and turned to toss the ball to a waiting Galarraga.

The ball hit Galarraga’s glove in the palm and bounced out where he caught it in the webbing. In real time toot, ball, glove, and base runner all seemed to arrive at the same time. The Tigers began to celebrate when first base umpire Jim Joyce motioned Donald was safe.

With that one call perfection was erased. Pandemonium ensued. Tigers Manager Jim Leyland came out to argue. In the meantime television replays were shown in super slow motion letting everyone but the umpire know he made the wrong call.

Galarraga went back to the mound to face Trevor Crowe who grounded out to Brandon Inge ending the game but not the controversy. Players and fans were livid. Every news outlet in the country seemed to be carrying this highlight.

Proponents of instant replay immediately began campaigning for baseball to implement full review of every call. Fans and sports talk shows erupted with calls for baseball to fire Joyce and serve his head on a platter to Comerica Park.

After the game Joyce reviewed the tape then went to the Tigers clubhouse to apologize to Galarraga. Joyce admitted he had made a mistake and missed the call. Joyce was obviously remorseful. He is one of the best umpires in the game. For all of the thousands of calls he has gotten right over the years he will forever be known for the one mistake he made.

Leyland and Galarraga were both magnanimous praising the work of Joyce and umpires like him. That has not squelched the uproar that continues to boil over in the aftermath of this one play. Fans and reporters have asked, no demanded that commissioner Bud Selig review the play and overturn the results awarding Galarraga with a perfect game.

Their argument that it was the final play of the game and therefore no harm would be done to the game to correct this admitted mistake. But really how fair is that? What if this mistake had been on the first batter of the game?

The mistake still had no impact on the overall accomplishment so erasing it would have no statistical implications and a wrong would have been righted. Changing the rightful outcome of a game regardless of the righteous intentions is still changing the game. It’s a dangerous precedent to set and once set it could open Pandora’s Box for requests to change the history of the game.

We need look no further than Game six of the 1985 World Series when umpire crew chief Don Denkinger made a similar call declaring Royals hitter Jorge Orta safe at first despite pitcher Todd Worrell beating Orta to the bag by half a step. Denkinger later admitted he missed the call. The Royals would ultimately win the game and the series. Would we now ask Selig to overturn the 1985 World Series taking away the one championship from Kansas City and award it to St. Louis?

I can appreciate the fans desire to correct a mistake. I am sure that all parties involved would love to replay that sequence again and make the right decision but the fact is Joyce did the best job he could. In real time he made a split second decision that he felt was the right call. When he realized his mistake he stood up like a man and took responsibility. He sought out the injured party and gave his apology.

No one feels worse about this than Joyce. Even the next day he was clearly emotional in the knowledge that he cost that kid a chance to be part of history. The fact remains baseball is a very human game and with that comes mistakes that are not a negative byproduct but a part of the fabric of the game that endures it to every fan.

Now rather than a perfect game, fans and baseball historians will replay this ending and hopefully put it into perspective. Sometimes being perfect means you admit your mistakes and receive forgiveness. Personally that life lesson seems a lot more important than a line in a record book.


2 Comments

  1. The fact remains baseball is a very human game and with that comes mistakes that are not a negative byproduct but a part of the fabric of the game that endures it to every fan.

    Now rather than a perfect game, fans and baseball historians will replay this ending and hopefully put it into perspective. Sometimes being perfect means you admit your mistakes and receive forgiveness. Personally that life lesson seems a lot more important than a line in a record book.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    This is really easy to say – relatively speaking – when you’re not on the receiving end of a perfect game. But it’s the truth of the matter. My sympathy for Galarraga is heartfelt. As it is with Joyce … but, with Joyce, I have to applaud the guy for taking it. Better: Admitting it.

    Tough as it is to fathom sometimes, this is what makes baseball the greatest sport on earth.

  2. I agree. If Selig decided to reverse the call there would be several petitions for other plays to be reviewed and that would cause chaos and mayhem. And that’s just for this season. Let alone going back in time and reversing other calls. A mistake was made. Get over it and move on. Life isn’t fair and no one should go back and try to make it fair. You win some and you lose some. It’s always been that way.

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