We baseball fanatics love to point out that our beloved game intrinsically has so many complexities and nuances to it that on any given day you're entirely likely to see something happen during the course of a game that you've never, ever seen before. Given some of the events that transpired on the old diamond this last week, I'm wondering if we all might want to re-think touting that aspect of the game as being such a positive thing.
I'm referring, of course, to two of the oddest things to ever happen in a baseball game -- I know I'd never seen anything like them before, and I've been watching them for over half a century. The first occurred last Saturday, when the Angels' Kendry Morales broke his ankle landing on home plate after hitting a game-ending home run. The second event, which made national headlines that went way past the sports pages, came four days later on Wednesday night, when veteran umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base on what should have been the 27th and final out of an otherwise perfect game pitched by the Tigers' Armando Galarraga.
Everyone agrees the Morales play was simply a freak accident -- although, given the preponderance of dugout-clearing en masse home plate celebrations the last few years, maybe something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. Just as, if you think about it, those shaving cream pies "awarded" to the unsuspecting face of game MVPs might one of these days result in some poor shnook winging up on the disabled list after getting poked in the eye. (In the wake of the Morales mess, my dear friend, the noted baseball author Lee Lowenfish recalled that not too long ago a minor league player had his nose broken when he missed a congratulatory high five from a teammate after delivering a game-winning hit.)
Joyce's unfortunate bad call, however, is a horse(hide) of a different color -- one that baseball's Men in Blue are always aware may lurk in any play, big or small, in any inning, on any day. That's because umpires really do see something just about every day that in some form or other they haven't seen before; such, after all, is the very nature of the game. Only in the case of umpires, they have to then make decisions about what they're seeing - safe or out, ball or strike, fair or foul, tagged or missed tag, touched or missed base, etc., etc., etc. -- and all the split-second blink of their oh-so-naked eyes.
Yes, Joyce's bad call cost Galarraga a perfect game. It didn't, however, cost him or his team the game. And, to be completely factual, the call that Joyce's is being compared to -- Don Denkinger's similar safe-when-he-was-clearly-out call during the 1985 World Series -- didn't technically cost the Cardinals that game, either. Yes, it put a runner on base, but it was the leadoff batter of the inning, and had the next Royals batter grounded into a double play, no one would today be talking about Joyce's "Denkinger" call. But since Joyce's call came on the final out, no one's ever going to forget it. Which is as it should be. But for other reasons, I think.
The old adage about how if you don't notice the umpires during a game then they're doing a good job underscores just how much we all take for granted their often thankless tasks - and the hundreds of decisions each of the four umpires on the field make each and every game. They want to make the right one each and every time. But, like all of us, they're only human, and humans make mistakes. And we live with them and move on.
With all the clamoring for expanded use of replays, we should be looking and learning from the only people who really matter in this incident - Joyce and Galarraga. As soon as Joyce finished game, he asked to see a replay, realized he'd made a bad call, and openly apologized. And Galarraga, who it should be noted did not argue the call on the field when it was made, was completely gracious in his acceptance of Joyce's heartleft apology. Forget the perfect game. Let's be more impressed by their perfect behavior - as human beings. No replay needed.