Home MLB The perfect game that was but wasn’t

The perfect game that was but wasn’t

by Matt Smith

What’s more unbelievable than two perfect games in a month?

Three, of course. 

What’s more unbelievable than three perfect games in a month? 

Well, four would be the obvious answer, but two plus a third that should have been but wasn’t surely trumps it.

Armando Galarraga’s pursuit of perfection last night, ended with one out to go by a bad call by umpire Jim Joyce, was the latest in an ever-growing line of astonishing stories to wake up to this season, leaving UK-based baseball fans choking on their cornflakes.

According to ESPN, “Major League Baseball is still deciding whether to review the blown call”.  Should MLB Commissioner Bud Selig ‘right the wrong’ and turn it into a perfect game and if so in what way?

Ruling that the play should have been an out, thus ending the game is a possibility. The fact that it came on what would have been the final play makes the idea more credible. 

Had the play happened in an earlier inning (i.e. one player reached on such a play in the seventh inning and then every other batter was retired in order the rest of the way), you would still have the same story of the umpire ‘costing’ the pitcher a perfect game.  However, in that situation reversing the call would be a very debatable decision because of the potential impact it would have had on the course of the game.  You cannot assume that the outcomes of the following at-bats would have been the same had an out been made at that point.  In this case, the next batter, Trevor Crowe, was put-out so you could say the game should have ended on the 3-1 putout and then disregard the final plate appearance. 

The other way of dealing with it is to let the game record stand, but for Selig to decree that it should be recorded as a perfect game anyway, perhaps listed as the 21st with an asterisk next to it. 

Both ideas have ‘fairness’ at their heart, but neither seems right to me.  Changing a call retrospectively or recording an historic feat that technically didn’t happen will never truly turn it into a perfect game now.  We’ve been incredibly fortunate to experience the wonder of a perfect game twice in a short space of time.  It’s not simply a statistical achievement; the box score doesn’t tell the whole story.  A perfect game is about living the moment, getting ever more nervous and excited as each out is made and then reaching the final play when, right there in front of your eyes or in your ears, history is made. 

And last night, it didn’t happen. Galarraga didn’t retire 27 in a row, because the umpire ruled Jason Donald safe.  The fact that he shouldn’t have done so doesn’t change that.    

It’s a terrible shame that this has happened.  You can’t help but feel sorry for all involved, particularly as Jim Joyce will have to live with it for the rest of his career (and beyond).   Fudging it by making an artificial ruling hours after the game might make people feel better, and if it does happen then I certainly will not begrudge Galarraga from getting the credit he deserves or Jim Joyce being spared a lifetime of grief, but the moment has gone. 

Upon further review …

While that moment has gone, the flawed instant replay system still remains.

Few fans (no fans?) want to see ‘review appeals’ in every ballgame, where managers could challenge a set number of any close plays.  The current MLB review system as implemented avoids that unwanted situation because going to a review is down to the umpiring crew’s discretion and can only be implemented on a ‘boundary call’ decision as to whether a ball went for a home run or not.

However, bringing instant replay into baseball for limited purposes was always a dangerous move because using it at all sets a precedent.  Saying that only boundary calls are deserving of review is an arbitrary and, as shown by last night’s events, completely unjustifiable decision.

On any sporting, fairness or plain common-sense grounds, it is utter madness that an instant review booth and procedure was in place at Comerica Park, but that the umpires could not review the final play: one of far greater significance than a mid-game home run/double off the wall.  I’m sure Jim Joyce wishes he could have looked at the replay there and then, rather than after the game when the call had been made and his epitaph written. 

Whether it’s right to use replay in baseball is a divisive topic and one where you will probably never get a consensus, but the current system now has no credibility and it needs to change.  Either scrap it all together or make it more flexible so that umpires can use it to get the important calls right if they need the help.

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Thomas (Border Bats) June 3, 2010 - 9:20 pm

Of course, Galarraga has joined an even more exclusive club than the twenty-strong perfect pitchers club – that of the ‘pitchers who were perfect until the 27th batter’ (10 members) with the even more exclusive subset of ‘pitchers who were robbed of a perfecto’ (2 if you count Pappas in 1972, and slightly more if the other ‘unofficial’ perfectos are included.) In any case, his name will go down in history, as will Joyce’s, and reversing the result doesn’t seem to do justice to the incredible narrative of the game (and indeed, past month.)

Matt Smith June 3, 2010 - 9:41 pm

There’s no doubt that it’s still an incredible achievement and in some ways what happened will make it all the more memorable.

What’s more, and sorry if this sounds a bit sappy, but the way in which Galarraga acted in response to what happened was a a very shiny silver lining to the cloud. All too often people only focus on the bad behaviour of a minority of sportsmen, on or off the field. Out of this unfortunate situation has come displays of genuine dignity and class (from the player, the manager and the umpire) that does great credit to those involved and the sport they represent.

Matt Smith June 3, 2010 - 9:43 pm

Oh, and within 40 minutes of my post, Bud Selig came out and said that he “will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features”. The influence of BGB strikes again!

peter June 3, 2010 - 10:26 pm

Armando Galarraga what a class guy he is

Adam Brown June 4, 2010 - 11:28 am

fair/foul linecalls should have been included with fair/foul homerun calls, as it is basically exactly the same thing.

The manager of each club should get one appeal per game on out/safe calls at the bases on on a catch, but should be encouraged to only use it if absolutely necessary, perhaps by charging the club for each review.

It will go down in history as “the first ever 28 out perfect game”.

Joe Gray June 12, 2010 - 5:08 pm

Very well written, Matt, especially the bit about the significance of the play being for the final out. A good example of unjustifiable conclusions being drawn from “what ifs” during the course of the game was just generously provided by Alan Shearer, in his expert summary of the Argentina-Nigeria game in the football World Cup. I normally have no problem with Shearer – hence why I resisted the urge to belittle his status by enclosing the word expert in quotes – but I do disagree with the following…

Commenting on Argentina winning 1-0 on a goal that decent defending from Nigeria could have easily prevented, Shearer states something like “if Nigeria defend that properly, they come away with a draw.” Besides the fact that the tense he opted for sits outside of the English language (I don’t have an issue with Shearer, honestly), he was claiming that the rest of the game would have unfolded identically in the event that a goal was not scored (how else could he be sure that nothing else would be netted). If the chance had come in injury time at the end of the second half, he has a point he could defend. But the chance he’s referring to came with 84 minutes still to play. His conclusion is ludicrous.

Joe Gray June 13, 2010 - 1:18 pm

More on Shearer… He believes that a draw between England and USA was the perfect result for Slovenia and Algeria. Why? If one of these two teams is to qualify for the next round (that is all they are thinking of – they have no serious ambitions to win the group at this stage) they will almost certainly have to finish above the USA as it’s hard to see England not finishing in the top two in this relatively easy group. So how can it be good for the two teams that the USA managed to get a point?

I do think that Shearer is better than his average peer in punditry, but 3 days in to the tournament and he’s already driving me nuts. I can see the mute button is going to come in handy over the next month.

Matt Smith June 13, 2010 - 4:38 pm

Most of the coverage has been distinctly unimpressive so far. The BBC seems to like to add in a player or two whose English isn’t great (Adebayor this time, although Shearer would probably qualify as well) and, as with most sports coverage, the emphasis is always on getting ‘name’ players rather than people who offer genuine insight and are good at communicating. Trying to see the logic in what most of them say is a path to certain madness!

Joe Gray June 13, 2010 - 10:34 pm

It’s true that most footballers only have brains in their feet.


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