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Get With The Times

Posted by Brandon McKoy on June 3, 2010

Ya know, we sports fans tend to be quite…extreme…in our opinions. It takes less than 5 seconds after a play or an important call for us to either celebrate and defend it with the passion of a thousand suns or bemoan and deride it as though we just lost our first born child. There are times where this attribute is quite useful, but more times than not it really undercuts our credibility. It is with this consideration that I am intentionally late in presenting my opinion on the Armando Galarraga Perfect Game/Jim Joyce Blown Call fiasco. Yep, not even 24 hours after the instantly infamous call and I’m probably one of the last few people to give my two cents on the matter. The minute Jim Joyce incorrectly called Jason Donald, the 27th batter, safe at first, sports fans everywhere let the barbs fly with no regard. I’ve read and heard everything from Joyce being called a “douchebag” to a fan saying that he believes Joyce wanted to ruin the perfect game so that Roy Halladay (who threw a perfect game of his own only a few days ago) would have more time in the spotlight… *face palm*.

It’s obvious that the runner was out, by a full step even. The fact that Joyce missed the call is really inexcusable considering he had an ideal perspective to make the correct decision. Despite that, he messed up and made the wrong call. Does that make him a terrible person, a douchebag, a human pile of shit, as some have said? No it doesn’t, and it’s incredibly wrong and immature to say such things about him. Jim Joyce has been widely regarded throughout his career to be one of the best umpires in the game. Unlike Joe West, he does his job well and, until now, remains invisible from the game just like umpires should. He didn’t make the call on purpose out of some misplaced sense of spite or anger, he genuinely messed up. After the game he said, “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the shit out of it…I just cost that kid a perfect game.” If anyone should be outraged at Joyce it is Galarraga, who has already forgiven Joyce for his error. During today’s Tigers/Indians game Galarraga brought the Tigers lineup card out to Joyce, the home plate umpire for the day, who was wiping away tears.

The perfect game was ruined and because of Bud Selig’s trademark old school, hard headed nature, the call will stand for all-time preventing the perfect game from being marked in the record books. But, from the worst call in regular season baseball history, we have been given great examples of good sportsmanship and respect for which we should constantly strive to achieve. Unfortunately, Galarraga and Joyce are both victims of an illogical system that does not allow umpires (the only ones with the responsibility to make the correct call) to utilize a tool that everyone except them has easy access to – instant replay.

Not long after anger over the blown call began to settle, the cacophony of screams for instituting replay in baseball began to dominate the conversation. The knock against replay has always been that it would lengthen the games and take away from the “human element” that makes baseball so special. First of all, the only people that complain about long games are journalists and Joe West; I guess long games cause them to lose precious minutes of much needed beauty sleep. Fans (at least the ones I know) love longer games because they get more bang for their buck. Franchises and television stations also love longer games as they mean more revenue from concessions sales and commercial breaks. Aside from the financial positives of longer games, there’s the logical fact that replays insure the integrity of the game. I love baseball as much as anyone, but it becomes awfully hard to watch and accept outcomes when vital rulings are blown by the umpires, changing the outcome of the game. Getting the call right is the most important thing. Like my 3rd grade English teacher Ms. Hopper told my class, “quality over quantity.” It’s not about how fast you can get a game in, it’s about making sure the game is called the right way. If replays create a longer game then that’s just something we will have to live with. Baseball’s highest priority should be presenting a legitimate and virtuous game to its fans, particularly coming out of the steroid era. I’d rather have peace of mind knowing that the outcome of the game was the correct one than leave 10 minutes early.

The other 3 major sports have all incorporated official replays into their games and overturn incorrect calls when necessary. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Kendrick Perkins of the Boston Celtics was incorrectly charged with a technical foul. The next day, the NBA league office revoked the technical. Last night in the 2nd game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers appeared to have scored the game winning goal in overtime. The officials looked at the replay, saw that the puck never fully crossed the goal line, and reversed the call. No harm, no foul.

For those who expected baseball to follow suit today and reverse the blown call, their bad news was delivered when Bud Selig stated that he would not do so. The frustrating thing is that there is historical precedent within baseball for reversing calls. In what is known as the “Pine Tar Game”, George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a go ahead home run against the New York Yankees in the top of the ninth. Yankees manager Billy Martin requested that the umpires take a look at Brett’s bat because he believed Brett put too much pine tar on it. The rules of baseball state that “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.” The umpires decided that Brett violated the rule and called him out, striking the home run off the board. The Royals protested the game and American League President Lee MacPhail overruled the decision, stating that the intent of the rule had not been violated, and restored Brett’s home run.

However, there are more situations in baseball’s history where incorrect calls have been allowed to stand rather than be overturned. Exhibit A: Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, “The Call”. The first base umpire in the game was the well-respected Don Denkinger. With the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in the series and 1-0 in the game, Jorge Orta of the Royals lead off the 9th inning with a ground ball to the first baseman who tossed it to the pitcher covering first base. Denkinger ruled Orta safe, but replays showed him to be out. The Royals went on to win the game and the series. In the aftermath Denkinger received hate mail and death threats for over two years and is forever known as the umpire who robbed the Cardinals of the championship. What does it say about a sport that its rulers will allow an incorrect call to be the deciding factor in a championship series?

It’s up to Bud Selig to decide what the course of action will be in the wake of this event. He’s already refused to change the ruling, but the least he can do is give serious consideration to expanding the use of replay to all important calls. Keeping replay out of the game for the sake of preserving the “human element” is like having to drive across the country in 5 days, but using a Segway because you enjoy being a smug jackass. The only reason replay was absent before is because the proper technology did not exist; now it does. If baseball wants to ensure that its games contain integrity and that fans aren’t robbed of historic moments like Galarraga’s perfect game, then replay will be instituted in a concerted manner. It’s a shame that on a night where baseball should be celebrated, with Ken Griffey, Jr. retiring and what in actuality is a 3rd perfect game in less than a month (when there have only been 20 in the 140+ year history of the game), we are now focusing on the game’s flaws. Enough is enough and the time has long since passed, for if this situation doesn’t usher in a legitimate replay system in baseball, nothing will. It’s freaking 2010, get with the times already!
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