- Armando Gallaraga of the Detroit Tigers, in response to a reporter's question about the umpiring mistake that cost him an offical perfect game. He said it with a smile.
Perfect games in baseball, THE perfect game, are scarcer than hen's teeth. And yet there have already been two official perfect games this season and one unofficial one that is destined to be the most famous of the three.
Last night in Detroit, in the game between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, Armando Gallaraga of the Tigers faced 26 batters from the Indians and set them down one after the other. Then he faced the 27th, Jason Donald. Donald hit the ball to the first baseman Miguel Cabrera who fielded it between first and second base and tossed it to Gallaraga who was covering first. Gallaraga, with his foot on the bag, closed his glove on the ball a moment before Donald's foot touched the bad. The first base umpire Jim Joyce called him safe and Gallaraga went on to get the next man out. Thus, what should have been a perfect game became un-perfect, a one-hitter.
Later, after reviewing film, everyone, including Jim Joyce, agreed that he blew the call. The distraught Joyce 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. I thought the runner beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay." By all accounts, Joyce is an excellent umpire and a consummate professional and it is unlikely that anyone feels worse about this than he does and he'll have to carry that monkey on his back for the rest of his life.
He will, that is, unless Major League Baseball and the Commissioner decide to correct his error and declare that this was, in fact, a perfect game. But, today, Commissioner Bud Selig indicated that he would not overrule the umpire's call. And, hard though that is, I have to admit that I sort of agree with Selig on this one.
Errors are a part of the game. Fielders' errors, pitching errors, managerial and coaching errors, and, yes, umpiring errors. Baseball is a game of inches and it's also a game of errors. Errors of one kind or another decide most games, because, although baseball is THE perfect game, it is played by humans and humans are nowhere near perfect. That is part of the charm of the game and one of the things that makes lifelong fans of so many of us.
Baseball is a game played by imperfect humans and those of us imperfect humans watching can relate to them in a way that we might not be able to relate to players in another sport with its perfect physical specimens. The game is adjudicated by imperfect beings, too, these umpires. Most of them are very, very good at what they do. A few are not and should not be in the game. They are quick-tempered, carry grudges, and seem to delight in baiting players or managers into situations where they can throw them out of games. Baseball needs to address the performance of those umpires.
But with Jim Joyce, there's nothing for baseball to address. He did his best. He called it as he saw it, even though that call cost him, too, a perfect game. How often, after all, does an umpire get to officiate in a perfect game and what might have been the pressure on Joyce in that ninth inning with two out and the game on the line to call that runner out whether or not he was? What might have been the pressure on him - if he had stopped to think about it? But he didn't. He called it as he saw it without thinking and he maintained his integrity. He got it wrong, but that's almost beside the point. He did his duty and, after all, as Gallaraga said, "Nobody's perfect."
Baseball is, though, and mostly because of this human element. I hope it always will be. I don't want the game I love to be played or officiated by robots.