As almost everyone this side of Alpha Centauri now knows, last night Tigers pitcher Armando Gallaraga’s quest for a perfect game ended with a blown call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce on a bang-bang play. Unquestionably, Joyce missed it. I knew it even before the replay.
The play where the pitcher has to cover first base is maybe one of the trickier ones in baseball. The pitcher has to get there in time, field the ball and step on the bag with the runner bearing down on him. The throw over is necessarily weaker than if the first baseman was standing on the base because of the timing and the pitcher decelerating as he reaches the base. Not infrequently something goes wrong – the pitcher drops the ball or fails to step on the bag or the throw doesn’t arrive on time – and the runner is safe.
Look at the replay and it’s clear that the play didn’t need to be a close one. Another culprit here is first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He shouldn’t have fielded the ball, which was well within the range of second baseman Carlos Guillen. If everyone had done their jobs right, Guillen scoops up the grounder, makes a quick throw over to Cabrera at first and Donald is out: perfect game.
Considering the hysterical reaction to Joyce’s mistake, one would think that this was the greatest injustice committed since Socrates was condemned to death, but I had wanted to point out (before Colby Cosh beat me to it) that losing a perfect game after 8 2/3 innings on a bad call isn’t without precedent. Hooks Wiltse lost his bid in 1908 when umpire Cy Rigler failed to call a third strike on George McQuillan, who was hit on the next pitch. In 1972, with a 3-2 count on the 27th batter Bruce Froemming called the next pitch on the outside corner a ball, robbing Milt Pappas of his place in history.
Nor do I think that this incident is a reason to expand instant replay. It’s one thing to have it on home run calls, where the ball is far away from the umpires and hard to see, and quite another to bring it in for balls and strikes or a play at a base. The job of the umpire is as difficult a one as any other in baseball and it’s truly remarkable the number of times a disputable call is seen to have been judged correctly. Accept it and, like Gallaraga and manager Jim Leyland, try to behave with some restraint.