"It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [bleep] out of it....I just cost that kid a perfect game." -- MLB Umpire Jim Joyce
I'll admit, this is new territory for me. I mean, in my nearly nine months of writing here on HoustonPress.com, I've done no fewer than what feels like 200 "Top 5 this" or "Top 10 that" lists, and up until now, I've never had to update any of them (mostly because I forget about them a week later).
But Jim Joyce's boneheaded call at first base last night on what would have been the 27th out of Armando Galarraga's perfect game came exactly one week after I put the finishing touches on last Thursday's post "Five Officiating Decisions That Were WAY Worse Than Kendrick Perkins' Second Technical."
And now I'm scrambling.
Maybe I'm not ready to rank it, and maybe the ranking doesn't really matter. Let's face it, if you're an official and your included at all on any list like this, it means you screwed up. Or as Jim Joyce would tell you, it means you "kicked the shit out of it."
If nothing else, events like those which transpired last night at the end of Galarraga's should-have-been perfect game demonstrate how out of touch people are who see social media as a fad when it comes to being a forum for sports fans (or fans of pretty much anything) to immediately react -- hell, not just immediately react, but vilify, impugn, ridicule and rabble rouse. And none of those reactions would have been wrong last night, by the way. Within seconds of the call, not only was my cell phone blowing up with text messages, but Jim Joyce almost immediately became the top trending topic on Twitter and the Jim Joyce-Don Denkinger analogies were flying.
In case you missed it (and at this point, the only way you've missed it is if you don't watch television, which means you probably don't consume blogs either and you aren't even reading this, but I digress), Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians when the Indians' Jason Donald grounded to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera who flipped it to Galarraga covering the base. Galarraga beat Donald to the bag by a good half a step, but Joyce emphatically called Donald "safe" at first base.
(This is normally where I'd embed some video from Youtube, but the MLB Media Kremlin has clearly been working overtime to keep the clips off of video sharing sites as it has been removed due to licensing issues on several posts.)
Keep in mind, this would have been three perfect games in baseball in under a month (Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay with the other two), which is an other-worldly frequency for something that's occurred only 20 times in the history of the sport. This would have been the first perfect game in Tigers history. And granted, while it was far from a sellout crowd, it was "special moment" deprivation of the highest degree committed by Joyce.
In one moment of utter ineptitude, Jim Joyce squashed history.
Here's what makes Joyce's gaffe even more inexcusable than a bang-bang call in the heat of battle of a faster-paced sport like football, basketball, hockey or soccer -- he should have been prepared for this.
The same way that every player on either team before every pitch goes through scenarios in his head of what to do if the ball is hit to them, or what to do on the basepaths if the ball is hit in front of them, behind them, whatever, Joyce had the luxury of (a) readying himself for the ball to be put into play, (b) no runners on base so he only had two true responsibilities and possibilities for involvement -- out/safe at first and fair/foul down the line, that's it, (c) and this one is most important -- he KNEW that we were on the verge of something special. It was the LAST OUT. Not a bang-bang call in the third inning that, in retrospect, cost Galarraga a perfect game. There was one play left in the game, and the play occurred in front of Joyce, and he booted it.
No two ways about it -- if you're Joyce (or any umpire) and you have the luxury of knowing something great is one out away, you tell yourself "if it's close, he's out." In short, you'd much rather allow a wrongful perfect game than wrongfully prevent a transcendent moment. Every time.
To the credit of both of the principals involved -- Galarraga and Joyce -- they handled the aftermath as well as either could have been expected to. Joyce met with the media (which unto itself tells you how rarified the air was for this blunder), apologized, and sought out Galarraga to tell him in person how sorry he was. Galarraga could not have been classier, on the field nor in the postgame, saying it was part of the game and he accepts it. (I can only imagine if Roger Clemens or Brett Myers were on the mound. Jim Joyce would have left the stadium in a body bag.)
Bud Selig should accept it, too. There have been whispers that the commissioner might overturn the Donald "infield hit" and give Galarraga his deserved perfect game. Keep in mind, Selig has been a staunch opponent to instant replay's use in assisting umpires during games, citing the ever popular (and increasingly incompetent) "human element" as a critical part of the game's fabric.
Well Bud, you can't have it both ways -- if you're an advocate of the "human element," you have to accept the good with the bad. The good is...well, I can't really think of it right now; the bad is you have nights like last night, where Jim Joyce became a trending topic on Twitter and disgraced horrible fu manchu mustache wearers everywhere.
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SHOW ME HOW
I'd have more respect for Selig if he stuck by his guns -- on this play, on replay in general -- than if this play all of a sudden becomes an impetus for more instant-replay usage. Does the game need it? In my opinion, of course. But to use this play as the spark for immediate sweeping change is like enacting a seatbelt law because a head of state got killed in an accident beltless. What about all of the plays that got screwed up before this one? Not good enough? The game either needs replay or it doesn't -- a perfect game merely shines a light on an issue that Selig didn't really see as a problem to begin with.
In short, I'm saying I hate flip floppers. Don't flip flop, Bud. Stay strong. That said, I now must flip flop on my Five Biggest Officiating Gaffes. Damn you, Jim Joyce. Now you're making me look bad. Admittedly, that's about as easy as the call you blew last night.
You stay strong, too, Jimbo. And see if Denkinger still has the number for his therapist.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show", and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.