Perfect Game, Blown Call: Galarraga, Joyce Victims of Baseball's Imperfections

David MitchellCorrespondent IJune 3, 2010

DENVER - AUGUST 23:  Second base umpire Jim Joyce oversees the action between the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on August 23, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Giants 4-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Don't blame Jim Joyce.

On a night when perfection should have reigned supreme, it was a system of imperfections that ultimately cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a place in history, just one man that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After retiring the first 26 Indians that he faced, Galarraga induced an easy roller to the right side that should have completed the third perfect game in the last four weeks. Instead, first base umpire Joyce ruled the base runner, Jason Donald, safe in what will go down as one of the most heartbreaking missed calls in the history of baseball.

But despite the fact that Galarraga was perfect Wednesday night—and he was perfect, no matter what the box score indicates—everybody at one time or another will make a mistake. Some make them more than others.

Unfortunately for Joyce, he just made one at the least opportune moment and history is prepared to never let him forget it.

He is Bill Buckner. He is Jackie Smith—both victimized for one misstep on the biggest stage of their careers. While Joyce is widely regarded as one of the best umpires in the game, history will remember him as the man who cost baseball its 21st perfect game.

Said Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to Sports Illustrated columnist Tom Verducci after seeing a replay of the call, "It happened to the best umpire we have in our game. The best. And a perfect gentleman. Obviously, it was a mistake. It was a perfect game. It's a shame for both of them, for the pitcher and for the umpire. But I'm telling you, he is the best baseball has, and a great guy. It's just a shame."

And the saddest part is, it could all have been avoided if baseball had accepted its move into the 21st century as other sports have done.

In a perfect world, an umpire in an air-conditioned booth high above the action on the diamond below would have seen the mistake and called down to the field to overturn it ensuring Galarraga his perfect game.

But, as evidenced Wednesday night, this is not a perfect world.

While instant replay has been used ad nauseum in the NFL and sparingly in game-changing situations in the NBA, it has remained a taboo concept in America's pastime.

Why?

Because baseball fancies itself to be more pure than those other sports. And as far as I'm concerned, it is. But does that mean that it must remain unchanged from the days of Ruth or Mays despite the changing technologies and expectations of fans and sponsors alike?

This situation more than any other has proved the need for a review system in professional baseball. Sure, it may never again see a situation like this, but other controversies will arise. And in my opinion, it's unfair to saddle with guilt these individuals who give of their time and efforts to help officiate this great game.

Throughout a 162 game season, it is expected that an umpire will miss a call now and again. But it's a shame that Joyce must now lay awake in his bed tonight unable to escape the image of that missed call.


Some final thoughts...

While Galarraga missed going down in the record books as having pitched a perfect game and Joyce was far from perfect in that final call, their interaction after the game still gives credence to the idea that baseball is, at its core, perfect.

According to Galarraga, Joyce approached him after the game, crying, to offer an apology for the missed call. That alone is cause for appreciation as it is rarely expected that an umpire will offer regret to an offended player.

It was Galarraga's response to the media, however, that really impressed me as a fan of the game. Despite having just missed what will likely be his only chance at a perfect game in his life, Galarraga was gracious and understanding of Joyce's predicament.

"He really feel bad. He probably feel more bad than me," Galarraga told Fox Sports Detroit. "Nobody's perfect, everybody's human. I understand. I give a lot of credit to the guy saying, 'Hey, I need to talk to you because I really say I'm sorry.' That don't happen. You don't see an umpire after the game say I'm sorry."

He may never have his name in the record books for a statistic accomplished on the field, but baseball fans would do well to remember the classy sportsmanship displayed by both Galarraga and Joyce.

 

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