Perfect Game Blown Call: With Galarraga Game, Bigger Error by Scorer, Not Umpire

Burton DeWitt@bsd987Senior Analyst IJune 3, 2010


You've seen the replays countless times and you've chosen to watch them. ESPN, Yahoo, CBSSports – I don't care where you've gone – you've seen the replays. And every time it's on, you look in bewilderment.

“How could Jim Joyce call him safe?” you scream at the television, or maybe it's your brother or sister who screams. “It wasn't even close!”

And then you go about wondering what might have been.

Yet no matter how bad Joyce's call at first was on Jason Donald's infield “single,” it was not the worst call of the game. It wasn't even the worst call of the inning. In fact, it wasn't the worst call of the at-bat.

Joyce, in a split-second decision that will likely haunt him for the rest of his life, called Donald safe. Then the official scorer, who by rule has 24 hours to change his mind, ruled it a hit.

And that's the biggest error.

I've watched the play as many times as anyone else and the same question has gone through my head each time.

How is he safe?

And the only answer I've been able to come up with is because of a fielding error.

I see Miguel Cabrera picking the ball up. I see Cabrera turning. I see him fire the ball over to Armando Galarraga. I see Galarraga catching the ball. I see him making contact with the base. I see Donald take a step. I see Donald touch the base. I see Joyce call Donald safe.

Joyce was not shielded; he had a dead-on view. And somehow he made the incorrect call.

But umpires are not that awful. Umpires don't miss calls by that much unless they think they see something out of the ordinary.

Did Joyce think he saw Galarraga juggle the ball? Maybe; one video angle showed that maybe he was juggling it, although his glove remained steady throughout the play.

Did Joyce think Galarraga received the ball after the batter reached the base? Doubtful; the ball reached Galarraga's glove long before Galarraga reached the bag

Did Joyce think Galarraga completely missed the bag? You've got to think so.

And if Galarraga missed the bag, at least in Joyce's eyes, then the only correct ruling is an error.

Yet Chuck Klonke, the official scorer, ruled it a hit.

“It was in his glove,” Klonke told the Detroit Free Press. “I couldn't say he was juggling it. He closed the glove on it. I don't think it would warrant calling an error. I don't think there will be any changes on that."

But maybe if Klonke ever took a look at the responsibilities of the official scorer in the Major League Baseball rulebook, he'd know that that's not the only criterium eligible to call this play an error.

When Galarraga reached the bag, it is more than questionable whether he stepped on it his first time. His foot glided over, possibly never making contact. Then when he tried again to correct his footing, he appears to hover over, never making full contact until the batter is close enough for a bang-bang call.

While on replay he appeared to touch the bag even at the start, it is possible Joyce thought he missed the bag. If he missed the bag in a situation where he clearly had time to make the out, as per rule 10.12.a.3 of the official MLB rulebook, then the scorer must score it as an error.

Yet Klonke did not. And that's the biggest blunder of the day.

I'm not trying to defend Joyce, which sadly so few of us are. I'm just spelling it out. Joyce, in a split-second decision thought he saw something he did not see. And after watching the replay countless times, the only thing Joyce could possibly have seen was that Galarraga failed to touch the base in time.

The mistake, as unthinkable as it is, is at least human.

But Klonke has 24 hours to make a change. He has 24 hours to figure things out. And so far he is not budging.

Of course, this is dangerous territory. A scorer could easily expand this reading to call almost any bad call an error.

The rule in question, rule 10.12.a.3, states that an error should be scored “when such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out the batter-runner and fails to tag first base or the batter-runner.”

If the runner is incorrectly ruled safe, then the fielder received the ball in time to touch the base to complete the out. Yet he is ruled as having not touched the base before the runner. Therefore, by the most extremely technical reading of the rule, it should be scored an error.

By this reading, Johnny Damon's infield single in the bottom of the eighth inning, the forgotten of Joyce's two blown calls and also the more significant in terms of wins and losses as it enabled Detroit to score two runs, should have been ruled an error.

I get that that's not in the spirit of the rule. I'm not in favor of interpreting it to such extremes.

But I am in favor of interpreting it to some extreme.

Galarraga made the catch in time to make the out. With time to spare. He moved his foot over first base. With time to spare. He attempted to step on first base. With time to spare. And the umpire thought he did not make contact.

Regardless of whether the umpire was correct as to whether the runner made contact, that's an error. As far as the official scorer should be concerned, the ruling was he did not make contact.

Having watched the play countless times, that's the only possible thing going through Joyce's mind.

Yet Klonke, who had time to think everything over, ignored the baseball rulebook and called the play a single. If he doesn't make the change within 24 hours, it'll stand forever.

Klonke can still do the correct thing. He can change the call and preserve Galarraga's no-hitter.

Otherwise, it is Klonke, not Joyce, who would have made the worse blunder in an already infamous game.


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