Thursday, June 3, 2010

28 Outs to Perfection

28 Outs to Perfection
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 3, 2010

I am a baseball purist. I don’t like artificial turf, lights at Wrigley Field, day-night “doubleheaders,” baseball played in Florida after April 1, three divisions per league, or the wild card – even when my Mets have benefited by it. Most of all I despise the designated hitter and inter-league play.

However, when the gift of technology can improve the national pastime, it should be embraced – at least on a limited basis. This baseball purist supports a limited use of instant replay with regard to maintaining the game’s accuracy. Last night’s Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians game at Comerica Park absolutely qualifies.

By now anyone with a pulse – baseball fans and non-baseball fans (if there could be such a person) alike, have seen and heard how 21-year veteran Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce made the most egregious and disastrous call in his career, costing Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

Leading off the top of the ninth inning in Detroit, Cleveland’s Mark Grudzielanek almost made the Joyce call meaningless having smashed a deep fly ball that center fielder Austin Jackson hauled in a la Willie Mays. That should have been the perfect game saving play the broadcasters and fans should be talking about today. Indians catcher Mike Redmond made the second out on a routine ground out.

That lead to the drama of one out to reach perfection – a feat accomplished a mere 20 times in the history of Major League Baseball – although fans have been spoiled with two perfectos since May 9. Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies spun their gems on May 9 and May 29 respectively. Oh, and, by the way, Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies tossed a no-hitter on April 17, which in the world of the perfect games, has been lost in the shuffle.

With just Jason Donald standing between Galarraga and history, he hit a ground ball headed between the first and second basemen. First baseman Miguel Cabrera, moving to his right, fielded the ball and threw to the pitcher, Galarraga, properly covering first base. The ball hit the glove and Galarraga’s foot hit the bag easily beating Donald by a step, yet Joyce emphatically spread his arms to signify a safe call, ending the bid for perfection.

While Galarraga had a smile on his face, Cabrera and just about all the Tiger players swarmed around the umpire who clearly made a faulty call. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland darted from the dugout and also vehemently questioned the Joyce call. With calm temporarily restored, Galarraga settled back into his groove and finished off the Indians by retiring center fielder Trevor Crowe.

At that point, 17,738 fans offered Galarraga a standing ovation for pitching the game of his life and simultaneously poured boos upon Joyce, who stood on the field taking the verbal harangue offered by Leyland and the majority of the Tiger team, who also congratulated their pitcher for what should have been Major League Baseball’s 21st perfect game.

Having watched the ninth inning on ESPN and seen the play costing Galarraga the perfect game live, plus the numerous replays from the various angles, it is clear that the umpire made the wrong call. So clear, Jim Joyce himself admitted as much, saying he made the wrong call and, “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

Since the end of the game, which the Tigers defeated the Indians 3-0, the parties involved have acted with class, grace and dignity. There has not been name calling, threats, bad behavior or hand wringing as both teams take the field for a matinee with the same umpiring crew, and Joyce being rotated to calling balls and strikes. In fact, Leyland handed the lineup card to Galarraga to deliver to Joyce at home plate prior to this afternoon’s game and Joyce clearly was emotional and he, his fellow umpires and the Indians manager all shook Galarraga’s hand.

The ball is literally now in MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s hands. He needs to act on this and do so quickly – this call needs to be overturned and a perfect game awarded to Galarraga. To do so will not change the outcome of the game. Replay is currently employed in the case of verifying whether or not a questionable hit ball is a home run or not, so there is a precedent for using replay, although Selig has gone on record opposing it.

For those concerned about setting a new precedent, there should be a new precedent set – one that will allow for a replay to occur to guarantee the accuracy of the game at a time when it will not alter the outcome. Selig needs to reverse the call of that which the umpire who made it already admitted to committing an error. Such a reversal will protect the integrity of the game instead of damaging it.

Unfortunately, Selig, in a most politician-like manner, after applauding all who were involved in the situation last night for handling it with class, said this afternoon, that while the “human element” is part of the game, it does require some examination, without making a decision on the Galarraga near-perfect game. Selig said he needs to talk to the various unions and other such committees before making what should be a common sense decision and grant Galarraga his perfect game.

And as if the real politicians do not have enough work to do on behalf of their constituents, several have stepped up to the plate to opine on the Galarraga-Joyce saga. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said she would issue a proclamation declaring that Galarraga pitched a perfect game. Both Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman John Dingle said they would introduce resolutions in their respective houses calling for Major League Baseball to overturn the call of umpire Jim Joyce and grant Galarraga his perfect game.

While I agree with the sentiments of the politicians, shouldn’t they be figuring out how to reduce Michigan’s unemployment figures from 18 percent and bringing more jobs to the Wolverine State? Should they be trying to figure out how to reduce the crime rates so people don’t continue fleeing the state en masse abandoning buildings and making places like Detroit look like Berlin in 1945?

The politicians need to get back to their jobs and Selig needs to do his job and reverse the Joyce call granting Galarraga the perfect game he earned.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA as well as a lifelong New York Mets fan – a team in existence since 1962 which has never thrown so much as a single no-hitter, let alone a perfect game.

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