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.