Why Armando Galarraga's Imperfect Game Makes Perfect Sense For Baseball
Did Armando Galarraga pitch a perfect game or didn't he?
If he did, so what else is new?
And if he didn't, so what?
The umpire at the plate giveth; the umpire at first base taketh away.
By now, the mystery and wonder of no-hitters and perfect games should be long gone from fans' minds and hearts; save for the lamentable degradation of hitting skills by modern players in the age of overexpansion, role players, and skill specialization.
There have been many, many articles questioning the odd frequency of such pitching feats of late and you can take your pick of pet theories. And here's mine.
The reason Galarraga was screwed out of his place in the record books was the same reason he was close to getting into it in the first place—amok umpiring, signed and stamped with the team owners' seal of approval.
Just look at the balance sheet of history for a clue as to why Galarraga really shouldn't be crying into his beer over this.
As the redoubtably mediocre Dallas Braden so clearly proved earlier this season, this stat just ain't so special anymore, folks.
Eleven of the 20 perfect games in history have come in the last 29 years.
That's one perfect game for every two and a half seasons since 1981.
Throw in the usual one to three no-hitters now being thrown every season in recent decades, and perfect and near perfect games have become about as rare as triple plays.
Not since the 1981 strike and split-season, anyway.
That's when the owners (aka MLB Incorporated) craftily decided to come up with a special new formula to determine a team's playoff eligibility that essentially guaranteed the first-half leaders would make the post-season.
And they got away with it.
Ever since then, MLB has used its legal monopolistic prerogative to implement numerous new policies, rule changes and directives to the umpires union to more directly influence game outcomes for the sake of accommodating television production, commercial programming, and ratings.
Rules have been added to speed up the pitcher's delivery and batter's plate time; alter the strike zone; govern the colors and size of pitchers' and batters' gloves, eyewear, and jewelry -- even the location and display of a pitcher's tatoos have come under strict governance.
An entire book could be devoted to the massive programming shift toward night games in recent decades to accommodate TV viewers—a trend no pro player past or present would argue hasn't forever altered the equation of the game in the pitcher's favor.
The result: Of the 50 best season batting averages in MLB history, not one has come since 1980.
But 11 of 20 perfect games have.
Is there anybody in the world who actually believes the overall quality of major league pitchers has suddenly and dramatically increased in the last 30 years?
Of course not.
The simple fact is baseball owners have never been above changing the rules to suit their needs.
They've just dove into the task with special gusto as the TV and merchandising money at stake soared into the billions.
Let's skip the obvious examples, such as the institution of the designated hitter rule, and reach a little further back.
Foul balls didn't used to be counted as strikes, and four strikes used to equal an out.
Spitballs were legal, and cut fastballs actually used to have cuts in them not all that long ago.
In the 1960s when power pitchers were in their heyday and premier hitters were dirt-diving for their very lives, the mound got lowered.
Approval and subsequent widespread use of artificial turf has eliminated 90 percent of the "bad hops" faced by the fielders of yore.
In the post-strike season of 1998 when attendance and ratings were cratering, steroids and bat corking were far from the mind of MLB and the corporation went to ridiculous lengths to manipulate outcomes and encourage fan interest through the McGwire-Sosa race for the single-season home run record.
With a mindful eye toward the fact that both players on track for the record played for dismal teams and might not get the pitches necessary to reach their goal, MLB announced at mid-season any pitcher serving up a homer to the eventual record-breaker would be immortalized with their name on a plaque in Cooperstown commemorating the feat.
As more than one pitcher commented the rest of the season when asked why he chose to pitch to—and be victimized by—the Cards' and Cubs' lone dangerous batsmen in their lineups: "Hey, it's the only way I'll ever get into the Hall, so what the hell."
So after an era of wild scoring and pumped-up, corked-up offensive numbers and records, MLB has since countered by once again meddling with Abner Doubleday's—or whoever's—original winning formula.
It's no secret any longer that MLB has empowered umps to manage and influence the game like never before, as witnessed numerous times through the glaring spotlight of the 2009 postseason and evidenced by the the embarrassing firings of several umpiring officials made scapegoats for their effort.
The criminally blatant antics of umpires union chief Joe West and company and the institution of replay on fouls balls and home runs this season are simply another step in that game-influencing direction.
The next logical progression has to be instant replay on all calls but balls and strikes .
After that, is there any doubt we will see electronic review and booth reversal of crucial balls and strikes calls that influence games?
It's not a question of whether it's a sucker punch to the heart of the sport's purity or not, or whether it's good for the game or not.
In the eyes of MLB Inc., which has always exploited every means at its disposal to bend the game to its commercial needs and wants, none of that sentimental stuff matters.
It's just what's next.
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