It was two seasons ago in a men's wood bat summer league game. It is a good league, with great competition and many former (and at least one current) major leaguers as alumni.
I was base umpire, situated behind the pitcher's mound in a two-man team. Man on first, one out, late in a tied game.
Batter hits a ground ball to the hole in short, throw is made to second for the force out, then the relay is made to first.
Bang-bang play, and I signal OUT! Double play and inning over.
There were complaints from the batter/runner and first base coach, the hitting team's bench (of course); while the other side let out a couple "All Right's."
A few seconds later, after the batter/runner said, "You blew it," I headed to the fence to take a break before the next inning started.
I had the feeling I blew the call.
One of the fan's on the fielding teams side said to me, "It looked like he was safe." I already realized I blew the call, but the fan's comment cinched my realization.
The funny thing is that I DID see an out. He looked out, and I called him out. I saw the foot of the first baseman on the bag, ball in glove, then the runner hitting the bag.
I did not have the ability to get help from the home plate umpire, because I saw the foot on the bag.
But Jim Joyce did have the option of reversing last night's call on the field.
Everyone now knows what happened. Armando Galarraga had a perfect game taken from him by Joyce's bad call at first base. It was the 27th (and final out) of a perfect game, and Galarraga would have been immortalized in baseball history.
Well, actually, funny thing is that Galarraga IS immortalized.
He is the guy who lost a perfect game in a bad way. Not bad by a final hit like Mike Mussina had happen to him in 2001 , or bad like the ninth inning, one-out hit Tom Seaver had happen to him in 1969 . But it was nearly as bad as Milt Pappas' perfect game bid in 1972 , when Bruce Froemming (like Joyce, another respected umpire) called balls on two straight two-strike, really close pitches.
This is slightly different than the nine inning perfect game Pedro Martinez had with the Montreal Expos in 1995, who then allowed a double leading off the 10th inning of the 0-0 tie game, or Harvey Haddix' 12-inning perfect masterpiece in 1959.
But what advantage did Joyce have that I didn't?
He had the option of asking the home plate umpire for help on the call.
Similar to my situation when I realized a couple of seconds afterwards that I probably blew the call, Joyce must have realized that he might have blown his call, too.
Especially when the batter, Jason Donald, had his hands on his head in disbelief.
But in the time it took Jim Leyland to come out on the field to ask about the call (about 21 seconds; I timed it), Joyce's way out was that he could have said to Leyland that he did not see Galarraga's foot hit the bag.
Then Leyland could have asked for help on the call from the home plate umpire, and Joyce could have gone to ask the home plate umpire if the fielder's foot was on the bag.
Many times on close plays, the umpire's view of the foot on the bag can be obstructed, mainly on wide throws, which pull the first baseman off the bag. Sometimes, you can't see the foot on the bag.
In the photo above, Galarraga's foot is not yet on the bag.
That is why on close plays where the pitcher has to cover first, the first base umpire moves into foul territory near the first base coaches' box to see everything up close. That is the correct position.
In this case, because of Joyce's incorrect vantage point, it could have been that Galarraga's body "obstructed" Joyce's view of the foot hitting the bag.
At least that should have been Joyce's thought process.
Since he was in the incorrect position for that type of play, Joyce needed to think quickly to save himself.
Joyce could have said to the home plate umpire, "I had a catch on the ball, and did not see the fielder's foot hit the bag. Did you see the foot on the bag?"
I bet the home plate umpire would have said, "Yes, I had the foot on the bag."
Runner out, game over, and perfect game intact.
The home plate umpire's job in that situation is to come out in front of the plate, and watch the bag to see if the fielder touches the bag with his foot. There have been several times I have umpired games where calls have been reversed on the same exact play.
In that situation, Joyce would have been the hero instead of the goat.
He would have made the decision for safe on what he saw, because he has to make an immediate call, but asked for help to get the call right when asked for an appeal by the manager.
The rules are sketchy but that play (especially in that instance) can be appealed when the umpire says his view was obstructed.
Under ML Rule 9.02 (a), it states that any judgment call such as out or safe at a bag is final. But 9.02 (b) states any umpire's decision that may be in conflict with the rules can be appealed by the manager, who can ask that a correct ruling be made.
That conflict of rules is the sketchy area but is usually granted by teams in tough situations. This includes cases such as missed calls from being out of position, but also includes cases where something might be missed on a play being too quick.
Think check swing and asking for help, or the same thing if a batted ball hits the batter's foot.
Those types of plays are extremely difficult for a home plate umpire to make an accurate call, and many times, help is needed.
Then 9.02 (c) states that if an appeal is made by the manager, the umpire who made the call has the right to ask for help and gather more information from other umpires. After this new information is presented, only the umpire who made the original call has the authority to reverse that call.
If Jim Joyce was thinking quickly, he could have said he didn't see the foot hit the bag, got an appeal, asked for help, and made the correct call.
Like I mentioned earlier, batter out, game over, and perfect game intact. And everyone is a hero for doing the right thing.
I do not think that Jason Donald or Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta would have argued....much.