On a pleasant June night last week 17,738 Detroit Tiger fans filed into Comerica Park to see a game against the Cleveland Indians. Little did they know they’d witness what could be a pivotal moment in baseball history less than two hours later.
Even casual baseball fans now know the details: with two outs in the ninth inning Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga induced Cleveland batter Jason Donald to hit a grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. As he’d practiced hundreds of times, Galarraga raced over to cover the first base bag and the defensive play was executed perfectly – or so he thought. Umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe but replays clearly showed the toss from Cabrera beat the runner. “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” moaned Joyce afterward.
Despite the fact that two perfect games have been thrown this season, the feat is harder than one may think – in major league baseball history just 20 pitchers have faced 27 batters in a game and retired all of them in a row. What makes this example different and perhaps more substantial in baseball history is the aspect of instant replay and the obvious blown call which cost the 28-year-old Venezuelan his chance at baseball immortality.
For sports fans, grousing about referees is as old as the game itself. Few home team fans will complain if a call goes their way, but if the situation is reversed officials never hear the end of it from the fans in the stands. Even the famous poem ‘Casey at the Bat’ features a fan who shouts, “Kill the ump!”
While it’s obviously against the law to physically harm an umpire who has a bad day in the eyes of the faithful, some feel that the force of law should be used to correct the call; in fact, one legislator from Michigan is seeking Congressional intervention to correct the error. Rep. John Dingell plans to introduce a resolution calling on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call, citing Major League Baseball’s reversal in the famous 1983 “pine tar” game where Kansas City batter George Brett had a home run nullified and later restored in a game against the New York Yankees.
The 1983 incident changed the result of the game from a Yankees win to a Royals victory but ultimately made little difference in the overall standings. In Galarraga’s case, he retired the next batter and the Tigers maintained the 3-0 win.
A more lasting impact comes from the idea of Congress interceding into the affairs of a sport simply because an incorrect judgment call was made. Too often we as Americans get the tendency of seeing a wrong such as this and demanding government correct it instead of not sweating the small stuff. More often than not during a game, one of the players will be charged with an error for a fielding miscue and once in awhile, as in the Galarraga incident, we’ll see the umpire blow an obvious call. That human element is one which lends charm to baseball and makes it the most traditional of our major professional sports.
Sure, having grown up as a Tigers fan myself it would have been nice to see Galarraga pitch the first perfect game in their 110 year history, and he may yet achieve the feat in a future game. The more lasting damage to the game wouldn’t be from letting an incorrect call stand but from allowing Congress to stick its nose into yet another arena where it doesn’t belong.
Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This cleared LFS on June 8th, and yes I’m still a Tigers fan.