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John O'Kane Headshot

Imperfect Game

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The blown call by Jim Joyce that took a perfect game away from Detroit's Armando Galarraga should have been reversed by Bud Selig. Mistakes are made in professional sports, and umpires and referees are humans who will and are expected to make them. But millions of fans saw the replay on TV and their voices are clear: nearly 90% wanted Selig to reverse the decision.

Mr. Joyce acknowledged his error, garnering many sympathy votes. But it is difficult to see this whole affair as anything other than grand theft. There are moments in sports that matter more than others, the game sevens and the super bowls for example, especially when scores are close, when one blown call can shift the momentum and even the outcome. It would hardly set a bad precedent if replay is used in these moments.

The sanctity and spontaneity of the game notwithstanding, the baseball Founding Fathers hardly meant to make future generations slaves to tradition, unable to adapt to new spectacles and technologies that could freely deliver the best angles on truthful play. Our national pastime after all was a vehicle for immigrant ascendance into the mainstream.

And Selig is hardly a slave to tradition anyway, wanting a few years ago to eliminate the Minnesota Twins from the league because small market teams couldn't compete in the new NAFTA order. The next season was one of their best on record! Was this a sympathy vote for the forces gobbling up mom and pops in the real economy?

Here we're talking about a perfect game, something accomplished by only 20 players in the history of the game, which dates from the mid-to-late 19th century! The odds are mind-boggling. As someone who came close a few times, and played with someone in college who achieved it prior to a lengthy stint with Kansas City, I can say that the experience at that level of competition borders on a form of religious ecstasy that may never return.

One more player was ready to increase the pool, getting to that 9th inning pinnacle, and the honor and achievement was stolen from him, and the fans. He did pitch a perfect game; the video is clear about that. This wasn't just a close call, interpretable either way. With so much at stake the game should have been stopped and care taken to make sure the right call was made. This veteran umpire couldn't ask for help! Was he asleep at the switch?

The game of baseball is now a TV game for the vast majority. The high cost of tickets, and the difficulty in getting good seats anyway since corporations buy most of them up, means that most fans get to be officials themselves and see the instant replay in the comfort of their homes or local sports bars. These fans have been able to watch officials in action for some time, seeing their blunders. And they've been seeing much more as well.

Under Selig's watch the traditional audience for the national pastime has been trimmed way back as new ball parks have mushroomed, lavish with luxury seats and boxes but lacking the seat capacity of old. Denying access to the mass boosts the prices for those who will grab the luxury spaces, enabling the super salaries to be paid. These storied parks didn't just decay, and at the same time. They were dozed in the gentrification mania that drove out longtime inner city residents and amped up real estate prices for well connected insiders, taking neighborhoods away from once loyal ballpark residents.

Corporations hijack the sport from the public, rename the parks after themselves, and tap the treasuries for the stockholders, leaving local budgets strapped. Sound familiar? Disrupted communities subsidize the deals. Good jobs take flight, replaced with low-waged temporary ones. Many fans are cynical about these trends. They see a value problem, a huge divide between the success of the sport and their own lives, a success that to a great extent depends on their exclusion. And they see the value of the sport declining from steroid-inflated stats. What happened to America's game?

Mr. Selig's mindset makes me think of Obama's comments on single payer. He claimed it would be the best system but we have a long-standing private insurance industry and must build on its foundations. Tradition is what you make of it!

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