Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Perfect Game Lost: Thoughts on Baseball's Big Moment

I love baseball. There I said it. Great game. If you look to your left, there's the Magic Number count down for my beloved Minnesota Twins (you guys are the tops! Keep it up!)

Recently, a young Detroit Tigers pitcher by the name of Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game. For those of you that don't love America's pastime with the reverence it deserves, a perfect game is the ultimate single game accomplishment a pitcher can have. It means that during the course of the entire game, not a single player from the opposing team safely reached first base. This is not to be confused with a no hitter which just means no one officially scored a hit. There's lots of ways to make it to first without getting a hit, walk, error, 3rd strike and not tagged, balk, to name a few. But in a perfect game, not one single player stood at first base.

It's an awesome achievement. It's so awesome the most pitchers never get one. Ever. Most of the greatest pitchers of all time don't have one. Until this year, there had never been more then one in a single season. Do the math. 30 team, 161 games and the lifetime average is 1 per year. My math might suck but it looks like the odds are 4830 to 1. That's a lot of pitches.

So with one out to go, Galarraga pitches to the Cleveland Indian's Jason Arnold. His ground ball single pulls first baseman to his right, he grabs the single and tosses it to Galarraga who's now covering first. Now, we can argue about why the first baseman went for that ball, it was questionable that he should drift that far and leave the bag to the pitcher. Pitchers aren't always your best glove on the field, but I digress. What happened has rocked baseball.

In the blink of an eye, the runner was declared safe at first. The perfect game was no more. With 26 batters sent back to the dugout, the 27th reaches on a single.

Now, that's what officially happened on the field. The replay, told a completely different story. In the replay, it was obvious, he was out by a half step. But this game is run by humans and the umpire's decisions are the rule on the field. There's no do-overs. No replay.

What follows to me is some of the classiest actions in the modern history of professional sports.

The pitcher turns and sees the call as safe. Unlike your average NBA or NFL or for the most part, most high level athletes of our day. He never threw a fit. He smiled. Took the ball back to the mound and got ready for the next batter. Class.

Jim Lieland, the manager, trots over to first base and calmly discusses this with umpire. The umpire is sticking to his call. The manager lets it go. Class.

After the game, there were no tantrums. Just an umpire going back to his locker room watching the video replaying and realizing he just robbed a young man of his big moment. He didn't spin it. He didn't make excuses. He went to the young mans locker room and with a tear in his eye, he apologized. He swallowed his ego and with balls the size of Texas, stood up and admitted he was wrong. In an interview the next day, with the whole world watching, he admitted to everyone. He screwed up and blew the call. Class. (now, for the record, he used bad words...I'll let it go. He f*^&ed the call)

Since then, the fans have shown a bit less class or even thought about the situation. People forget that this is a game who's biggest decisions are made by humans. I still like that. It adds drama. Machines are cold and boring. Ugh.

There's been a great deal of interest in implementing instant replay for baseball. Personally, I'm not a fan, but I like imperfections. That's just me. One thing that people have been asking for is for Commissioner Selig to overrule the call and give the young man his perfect game. I don't know about that. I think he probably deserves it. Baseball fans won't be forgetting this for a long time. Do you remember who threw a perfect game 3 years ago? But many of us remember Bill Buckner. (He's the first baseman the blew a routine grounder to take away a Red Sox world series victory back in the day...)

But let me open a ginormous can of worms on the idea of reversing that one call. I think if you want to reverse that call, you really need to go through every call in that game and check them all for accuracy. Were there any called 3rd strikes? Were all of those perfect? They better be. My guess is, no one will want to walk that road. Our hippocracy  only goes so far.

Let the game stand. Remember it. Cherish it. And love the game for what it is. Perfect imperfection.


Darrin said...

Great post, Tim. I totally agree. One could argue that since this was (should have been) the final out of the game, reversing the call now would be "safe" since it doesn't in any way affect the actual outcome of the game. But I agree that it would set a dangerous precedent, not only for looking at other outs in this game, but how many other games through history have been altered by a bad call, and all the wronged parties in those games are going say, "Hey wait a minute, what about what happened to me? You should reverse that bad call too." The outcome has to stand, and the ump has to live with his bad call for the rest of his life.

lightning36 said...

Reminds me of another perfect game that never was:

Pappas still won't let it go after all these years. How many of us would?

WeaselMomma said...

Yes, perfect imperfection. I still fell really bad that the pitcher was robbed of his perfect game, though.
The class of the way it was handled by parties involved, was a great thing to watch.

Sean D said...

I agree 100% , how many plays could be reversed? You can't change it until you embrace replay and all of its time chewing problems.

Precedents are what kill us as a country. Some of them are right and some of them are there so we don't hurt precious feelings.

PLAY BALL and go RANGERS! (BTW Nice sweep last weekend brother!)

Dawn Summers said...

Buckner did NOT take the World Series away from the Sox. The game was tied at that point and if he had fielded the grounder, we just woulda gone to another inning. Where the METS would KICKED THAT BOSTON ASS ANYWAY! #Metsswagger

OhCaptain said...

Mets fans are funny.