Baseball: Armando Galarraga robbed of Perfect Game

By Paul Hurst
Armando Galarraga

Replays showed Donald being a stride short of first base when the ball got there

Controversy erupted in Detroit on Wednesday night as Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by what is already being described by many as one of the ‘worst umpiring calls of all-time’.

Galarraga had retired the first 26 Cleveland batters in order, and was on the brink of history as he faced Indians number 9 hitter Jason Donald. Donald took a called strike, and a ball outside, before grounding the 1-1 pitch to the right side.

First baseman Miguel Cabrera went to his right to field the ball and threw to Galarraga who had sprinted over to cover first. On first glance, the ball looked to have easily beaten Donald to the bag, however umpire Jim Joyce immediately signalled the runner safe. Subsequent replays revealed just how bad that call was.

Galarraga went on to get the next batter, Trevor Crowe, to ground-out to finish the game, but there were angry scenes immediately afterwards. Tigers players flooded the field having seen the replay showing Donald being a stride short of first base when the ball got there.

In a phone call with Detroit radio station The Ticket after the game, an obviously upset Joyce admitted he had blown the call, and refused to make excuses. He said was in a great position to see the play, describing it as the “biggest call of [his] career” and that he had simply “kicked the **** out of the call.”

It later emerged that Joyce had visited the Tigers clubhouse after the game, and tearfully apologised to Galarraga and the Tigers team. Galarraga, who had taken the initial incident on the field in extraordinarily good grace, is said to have hugged Joyce and told him he forgave him for the mistake.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig does have the power to overturn Joyce’s call but it does not seem likely at this stage. Such a decision would set a major precedent in the game, and there is an argument that a reversal of the call would not have a material effect on the outcome of Wednesday night’s game, and therefore it is an easy trade off to right the wrong.

The flip side, however, is that if it is acceptable to reverse a play that had no bearing on the outcome of a game, then surely we must look at the results of controversial calls which have had a material effect on the outcome of games?

Baseball has been the most reluctant of the major US sports to embrace the use of video replays with it being introduced for the first in August 2008 and only in the limited circumstances of determining whether borderline home run calls were fair or foul, cleared the fence or if there was spectator interference.

The use of instant replays is a very divisive topic amongst fans. Traditionalists are generally against expansion of the system and concerns have already been expressed that it would further slow down games, something which has already come under scrutiny this season.

In a press statement, however, Selig said: “While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed. Given last night’s call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features.”

A real positive that has come out of Wednesday night’s events is that it has given an opportunity for the good side of baseball to be seen. After the initial anger on the field, the conciliatory gestures made by all parties have been a credit to the game.

After the public apology from Jim Joyce himself, Tigers catcher Gerald Laird was apologetic about his actions after the game, and manager Jim Leyland was extremely gracious in talking about Joyce, and his 22-year career as a Major League umpire.

Prior to Joyce’s next game at Thursday’s Tigers-Indians clash, Galarraga went out to home plate to hand over the line-up card to Joyce—a duty almost always carried out by the manager—where the pair shook hands to applause from the crowd in Comerica Park. Leyland described it as ‘a day for Detroit to shine.’ Baseball did, too.

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