Jim Joyce, Perfect Games, TV Replay, and Other Poorly Understood Subjects


Let us be thankful we are living in, as the Chinese say, uninteresting times. Only when there’s relative calm in the Middle East and things are going smoothly with the environment can such an incident as a blown call in a baseball game make the front page of the Daily News.

There are so many issues surrounding umpire Jim Joyce’s call that spoiled Armando Galarraga’s perfect game bid Wednesday night that trying to sort them out is like trying to shout over a debate in a sports bar during happy hour. Since we know that you, dear Voice readers, are more rational than the average fan, we’ll try to sift through mess for you:

First, the issue of whether or not it was the “worst call” of all time.

(As everyone from’s Tim Kurkjian to Mike Lupica in the Daily News have been saying.) Just take a deep breath and consider this for three or four seconds to see how silly it is. Worse calls are made in a game just about every day; if anyone had the energy, they could sort through a replay of Wednesday night’s Detroit-Cleveland game and find four or five calls just as bad. By “bad,” of course, what many people mean is “Bad call at an important time.”

But how can anyone safeguard against that? Jim Joyce is a respected umpire with a solid record; that he would make a bad call at that particular point in the game — with two outs in the ninth inning — is as much of a long shot as that Galarraga would pitch a perfect game.

Second, the issue of whether or not the call should be overturned. Of course not. This is a ridiculous idea, and for once Commissioner Bud Selig, in refusing to overturn the call, is taking a stand that makes some sense. In a USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted Thursday, 64 percent of those polled said the call should be reversed, but as Derek Jeter wisely phrased it, “Where does it stop, when does it start?”

And he should know. If they start overturning bad umpire’s calls, the one they would start with would be Rich Garcia’s on Derek Jeter’s fly ball to 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier in game one of the AL championship series. Simply in terms of bad calls, as in bad judgment, this was far worse than Joyce’s: Cleveland’s Jason Donald was out by just a few inches, and it wasn’t clear to some of us that he was out till we saw the instant replay. Jeter’s shot was so obviously not a home run that everyone at the ball park — including, literally, a 12-year-old, could see it.

We’re in full agreement with Ross Douthat in today’s that “Extraordinary cases make bad law.”

Third, I disagree with Douthat that the use of instant replay in baseball would be a mistake: “To avoid the extraordinary bad calls you have to start overturning the quotidian bad calls, the gaffs and brain cramps that have always been part of the warp and woof of the game and that have never detracted a whit from anyone’s enjoyment of it. And I’m pretty sure that would be mistake.”

Why? Surely umpires would only use instant replay on important plays; how would it hurt the game if an umpire jogged 30 feet to a TV camera to watch a replay? How would this “dehumanize” (as many contend) the game? The umpire, not the camera, must still make the call. Why shouldn’t he be given the best tools available to help him make that call? Ask Jim Joyce is he thinks it would have been “dehumanizing” to let him watch a replay before making his decision. What do you think his answer would be?

Fourth, the idea that Galarraga was “cheated.” Well, yes, of course, if life was fair, that would be the case. But we all know that it’s not, and that under the existing rules what happened Wednesday night was not unfair. If a Detroit infielder had misplayed the ground ball in that ninth inning, would fate have been any less cruel to Galarraga? And aren’t errors as much a part of the game as bad umpire’s calls?

Finally, it’s wrong to change rules in the present to alter the past, but there’s nothing wrong with using past mistakes to correct rules for the future. Baseball already uses instant replay on home run calls — ask Alex Rodriguez, whose reversed call home run off a TV camera in game three in last year’s World Series has so far been the most important use of instant replay in baseball.

Let’s face it. The use of instant replay on key call is inevitable. As long as millions can see something happening — in slo-mo — there’s no reason why the person who makes the decision shouldn’t be able to see it, too.