A Heartbeat of America
If you needed more evidence that baseball is part of America’s heartbeat, then these past few weeks gave you that.
Armando Galarraga, a pitcher with the Detroit Tigers, was one out from what has only been done twenty times in the past hundred years or so. A perfect game. He had one batter to go, light hitting Jason Donald. Galarraga stared in for his catcher’s sign, got it, wound up and threw. Donald hit a slower grounder to first and Galarraga took off to cover the bag. The ball landed in his glove steps before Donald got there.
Inexplicably, the umpire, Jim Joyce, called him safe. Galarraga just smiled and walked back to the mound to face the next batter. There was nothing he could do to change that call. He could argue, his manager did, but umpires never change their minds. His perfect game was gone. Replays would clearly show that the runner was out, that Galarraga had a perfect game.
Now umpires are not infallible. It is the human element in the game. There are bang bang plays everyday. Runners trying to beat out throws. Check swings. Ninety mile per hour pitches that twist and dart. The plays happen so fast. Judgments have to be made just as fast. And that is all it is sometimes, a judgment call. It is one human’s perspective. Umpires don’t have the benefit of replay like us TV fans do. So sometimes umpires are going to make mistakes.
Jim Joyce’s was a huge one because it was the pivotal moment in what could have been a great accomplishment. It could have been perfection. It could have been a defining moment in one player’s career. But it wasn’t. And apparently everyone was watching.
The following day there was outcry from an amazing amount of people who wanted the call reversed. You would have thought half of America were Detroit Tiger fans and had been at the game. Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs spoke from the White House. Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm issued a proclamation that it was a perfect game. U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell wanted to introduce a congressional resolution asking that it be called a perfect game. U.S. Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter, said "only the truth will uphold and honor the integrity of the game; and the truth is that this game was perfect," in a letter he wrote to the commissioner of baseball. Talk shows picked it up as did the news in every major city. America was watching and America cared about that one pivotal play. They cared about Galarraga’s accomplishment and they wanted to see him get what he earned.
Everyone wanted the commissioner to change the ruling.
Matters were complicated, because even the umpire who made the call, later said he blew it. It’s like failing a test only to have your teacher tell you they made a mistake and you actually passed - but the test score still stands.
The commissioner of baseball didn’t change the call though. Galarraga’s career record will never show that he pitched a perfect game, unless he does so in the future.
I think it was the right decision not to overturn that call. It would have set a precedent. What would they have done on the next close call, one that decided a game? Reverse one call, or reverse them all? It would cause an uproar and diminish the purity of the game. A bang bang play and the umpire’s split second decision. Wait, wait, wait. He was actually safe according to the instant replays. Sorry first base ump. Better luck next time? No, the call had to stand even with how unfortunate it was.
All was not lost though. The Detroit Tigers awarded Armando a brand new red corvette. That’s a pretty nice consolation prize, especially for a pitcher who makes the minimum. Does it make up for being robbed of a perfect game? No, but it is something tangible that he can rub his hands along and think, “I earned this. This beautiful piece of machinery is mine.” It’s a story he can tell in airport lobbies as he waits for his plane, or in a hotel restaurant late at night, or to his kids as they play catch out in the back yard twenty years from now. “Did I ever tell you about the time I threw a perfect game?”
The record books may not record the true twenty-first perfect game thrown in baseball history, but then the record books never really do tell the whole story. But Armando can keep playing his career knowing that for one night, when he was reaching for the record books, America took notice and they cared.
© Seth Crossman