Baseball Was Imperfect Perfection

There are times when I wonder what baseball could look like if not for one event. One egregious error, a terrible call that would instantly become a stain on baseball and set in motion an effort to take all human error and grey areas out of the game.

I’m referring to Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that never was. There he was, pitching for the Detroit Tigers against the Cleveland Indians and after retiring the first 26 men he faced, then Jason Donald stepped to the plate and hit a weak ground ball. The play was close at first, but he was obviously out, for a half second celebration looked primed to erupt when Jim Joyce, veteran umpire with almost four decades of distinguished work under his belt raised his arms and called him safe.

After the game, and after seeing the replay, a tearful Joyce would apologize profusely to Galarraga. The next day, Jim Leyland, Tigers coach at the time knowing that Joyce would be the Home Plate ump asked Armando to deliver the lineup card. Three men, all did the best they could to move past a terrible situation and show they could find a way to unite in the imperfect perfection of baseball.

I heard Dan Zangrilli talking about this on 93.7 The Fan over the weekend and it really brought home the downward slide replay has wrought since that fateful day in 2010.

Baseball had already succumbed to instant replay review in 2008, they stuck their toe in the water. Replay at the time could only be initiated by the crew chief and only for fan interference or homerun that were not called homerun on the field but might have been.

In 2014 the current replay system was implemented. None of this was done with bad intentions, but let’s look at what it has brought about in the interest of fairness and getting it right.

  • Stealing a base is now akin to sticking the landing in gymnastics because you no longer have to just beat the throw, now you have to end the slide with precision Simon Biles would envy.
  • Every close play at first is now met with “wonder if this will get reviewed” as opposed to cheers and gasps.

Now, does this mean I wouldn’t have liked to see the umps get it right when Spanky clearly tagged Sid? Of course not. But the spontaneity is half the joy in sports. The human element, aka the imperfection of sports is itself part of the game.

The replay train won’t stop, there is always something else that could be reviewed. Here’s one, how about allowing a review to catch a pitcher with a balk? Get it right after all. I bet there are a handful of pitchers who if called by the letter of the law balk 10 times a game.

Robo umps, which we may very well get to see this season sound wonderful on the surface but let’s play this out a bit. The best hitters in the world understand the strike zone so well they can take a pitch two inches off the corner on a 3-2 count. Partially because they can get the call from the ump who trusts their veteran eye almost as much as their own, and partially because they know they can’t do anything with the pitch. Now imagine two years of robo umps have played out already, the hitters who used to swing at those pitches 2 inches off the plate now easily let them go. There is no unknown as taking that pitch becomes muscle memory. No fallible umpire is going to give that call to Clayton Kershaw. Over time the strike zone consistency forces more pitchers to leave balls in the zone and the hitters have more incentive to sit middle-middle in all counts. Sure, hitters will still chase a slider 6 inches off the plate, of course batters will still take a hack at a curveball in the dirt, but the good ones will adapt and learn. Walk totals will skyrocket if hits don’t beat them to the punch.

If it benefits the offense, hey no harm no foul right Rob? If somehow it benefits the Pitching, we’ll hear arguments to augment the strike zone. But it will be right. 100% accurate.

The charm of the game of baseball is in its very imperfection. A player who fails 60% of the time to get a hit is a god. 70% a mere Hall of Famer. Umpires have never been given that much room for error, nor should they, but somehow, we have decided every event in the game must be fact checked and up for question before fans even have a moment to react.

You’ve all heard of the 3 true outcomes, right? Homerun, Strikeout or Walk, now I don’t really think that’s accurate, but we could very well be approaching a time when none of those three are entirely debate free.

Baseball history sheds a tear every time one of these new edicts comes down. I shudder to think how many times Ricky Henderson slid past the bag at second. I wonder how bad Greg Maddox would have been if he didn’t consistently establish and get calls on the fastball two inches outside. Maybe I’m weird but I think about these things more than whether Sid was out.

As Dan Zangrilli said yesterday on his show, what happens on a baseball field teaches us lessons that directly apply to life. There have been calls recently by Galarraga and seconded by Joyce to go back in history and give him credit for the perfect game. I agree with Dan completely, this is a big no. This is a lesson that nobody is perfect, but everyone involved rose above it and found a way to forgive and move on. While he doesn’t get to be in the record book as having tossed a perfect game, he does get to be the guy who said and did everything right in the face of adversity.

Sanitizing history doesn’t work, it simply breeds ignorance. If you don’t document mistakes, how can you learn from them?

I’ll always remember that night in 2010 as the perfect game that should have been. I’ll also remember it as the beginning of the drum beat that still rings on to eliminate human error from a game that itself is built upon the premise.

When changes like this come to baseball, I hope all the ramifications are played out and people realize a bit of error is part of the charm. Be careful what you wish for folks, you just might get it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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