The perfect storm

I was nearing the end of my work day yesterday evening when my Twitter feed began to light up with “Oh my God, what the hell just happened?” type comments. I checked ESPN and found the story many sports fans have probably heard in the last eighteen hours: With two outs, in the bottom of the ninth, an umpire named Jim Joyce blew a call at first base and cost a pitcher from the Detroit Tigers named Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

It would have been the third perfect game this season — in fact, the third in the last month — and there’s talk of Major League Baseball reviewing the call, which video showed was clearly off. A mountain of words has already been written and Tweeted about this story, including a column by Joe Posnanski that’s better than anything I could come up with here. I won’t say much, though some comment seems obligatory. I’ll offer the following.

While I hope the call gets reversed and Galarraga is credited with the 21st perfect game in big league history, I feel for Joyce. Short of returning punts or being a practice team tackling dummy in football, I think officiating might be the most thankless work in sports. Umpires are subjected to job performance demands I doubt most people ever encounter. Nothing short of perfection is demanded from a ref, and one blown call can permanently detract from decades of otherwise fine work. It’s a worse job than telemarketing.

I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been if Joyce had blown a call in Galarraga’s favor to give him the perfect game. From my time as a sports writer covering high school and college games, it got to the point that I would rarely write if fans were griping about officiating. It’s a common complaint on losing ends. Fans are generally quieter when a muffed call helps their team win, even if over time, I would venture that, for most clubs, blown calls help them as often as they hurt them. While the complaint is certainly legitimate this time around, it’s part of a much greater, tiresome debate.

Of course, had there been an opportunity for Joyce to blow a call in Galarraga’s favor and he’d gotten his tainted perfect game on that, some baseball purists might cry foul. Still, I doubt the storm would be anything like this.

Postscript: Less than 20 minutes after I posted this, ESPN reported that Bud Selig will not reverse Joyce’s call.

2 Replies to “The perfect storm”

  1. I think that I understand Selig’s reasoning in making the decision he made. I’ve been going back and forth on it myself. I have finally come to the decision that to deny the man his perfect game is an absurdity. The whole world (at least that part of it which gives a damn) knows that the man threw a perfect game. The batter has acknowledged that he was out. The umpire has acknowledged that he blew the call. The tape has displayed the truth to one and all. An official scorer can reverse a decision and turn a hit into an error, or vice versa, after the fact. That’s all that needs to be done here: take away a hit that the batter has testified was no hit. The purist stance of Selig would be funny–right out of Monty Python–were it not so cruel. And it is most cruel to poor Joyce who will be always remembered as an incompetent clown and a sniveling loser if the reality of what actually happened continues to be “officially” treated as if it did not happen. There are no winners in “the official version”–we all lose.

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