MLB's Imperfect Game Is Perfect Catalyst for Change

Jim Joyce's call will live in infamy but baseball can use it to get better

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Jun 3, 2010  |  Updated 4:07 PM EDT
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You'd have to be living under a rock to not know what happened during the ninth inning in Detroit on Wednesday night. With one out to go until the third perfect game of 2010, first base umpire Jim Joyce brutally botched a call and robbed Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a slice of baseball history. And then the whole damn world seemed to explode.

In the aftermath, we're left with two suggestions about how to handle what happened on Wednesday night. One is to extend instant replay beyond boundary calls and home runs and the other is to have Bud Selig step in and overturn the call so Galarraga gets his perfect game.

It's getting harder and harder to argue against instant replay. Joyce's call might be the most egregious, but there have been several game-altering calls in recent years that were wrong and correctable thanks to readily available technology. Perhaps games would be slightly longer and perhaps you'd lose some of the human element, but why wouldn't you trade those things for getting the calls right? 

Balls and strikes aside, there isn't an umpire decision in baseball that wouldn't be improved by applying the same standard of "incontrovertible visual evidence" to replays. Some might say that baseball simply needs better umpires more than replay, but let's be greedy here and shoot for both. 

But Selig was right to resist the urge to give into an emotional public that wanted him to overturn this particular call. Perfect games must be just that, and Wednesday night was imperfect. It was a bad call and, absent replay, there's nothing to stop umpires from making them. What's more, Joyce doesn't deserve that kind of absolution. His call interfered with history and that's something he'll have to live with, just as Don Denkinger will have to live with altering the 1985 World Series.

Selig's response touched on instant replay and the general quality of umpiring without making any promises about a timeline for changes to either area. He said the league, the umpire and players unions and a committee for on-field matters will discuss potenital changes. Given Selig's penchant for forming blue ribbon committees that don't do much beyond pinning those ribbons to their jackets, you'd be forgiven if you didn't expect much immediate change. Hopefully the magnitude of this incident means that this effort will prove more successful.

What's more, Galarraga didn't need Selig to help him secure a place in baseball immortality. The 28-out perfect game will be something passed down among generations, just as Harvey Haddix will always be remembered for throwing 12 perfect innings in 1959 before everything came apart in the unlucky 13th frame. The fact that he handled the turn of luck with so much grace will only add to Galarraga's legacy. 

Joyce handled the situation with grace as well. His comments after the game -- "It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game." -- have earned him a lot of deserved praise from around the country. Just as deserving of praise, however, is the way he conducted himself on the field following the call.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland got in his face and first baseman Miguel Cabrera spent the final at-bat in an unyielding offensive against the umpire, but Joyce let them have their say and let the game play out. It's impossible to know just what was in Joyce's head at that moment, but it isn't hard to guess that he was embarrassed about allowing the game to become about him. That's the cardinal sin for umpires and Joyce's postgame remarks show that he knows it.  

Rather than make it worse, Joyce took his lumps. Most of Joyce's brethren wouldn't have been quite so composed. In the last week, three other umpires have escalated arguments and picked fights with players and managers in situations far less heated than the one in Detroit. They acted like children in need of some adult supervision when they are supposed to be the men keeping order on the field. 

That's why a third suggestion comes to mind in light of Galarraga's unperfect game: Make Jim Joyce the head of Major League Baseball's umpires. What better person to teach other arbiters the way to conduct yourself on the field than a guy who did such a fine job of it under the worst possible circumstances? He'll never be able to undo what he did on Wednesday night, but helping make sure that nothing like it happens ever again seems like the next best solution.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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