How “Perfect” Was Philip Humber’s Perfect Game? (Part Deux)


I guess I wasn’t making myself clear enough in my earlier post regarding Fox Sports and the final pitch of Philip Humber’s perfect game — at least not clear enough for Craig Calcaterra on HardballTalk,, anyway.

First, let me reiterate what I did NOT say. I did NOT say that Humber didn’t pitch a great game. I did NOT say that a checked swing isn’t a judgment call. OF COURSE, it’s a judgment call. EVERY pitch is a judgment call.

The standard that is supposed to be applied to a checked swing is whether the barrel of the bat breaks the plane of the plate. Common sense says if it goes past the plane of the plate it’s a swing, and, therefore a strike. Conversely, if it doesn’t, then it’s not a strike.

I did NOT say that the umpire, Brian Runge, was supposed to appeal to the first base umpire; I said that is what usually happens on checked swings because the first base ump is in a better position to see how far the barrel of the bat went.

Above all, I did NOT say that Brendan Ryan held up – I said it LOOKED to me like he held up, but that I wasn’t given proper evidence in the form of an overhead cam replay or a first base cam replay to make a proper judgment.

Now, here is Calcaterra a couple of hours ago:

“Eh,” Calcaterra says after quoting me, “I get that worked up about some things but I just can’t here.” You’re missing the point, Craig, concerning what I was worked up about. We’ll get to that in a moment.

“It was a close call,” he says, “a judgment call, and – unlike the Jim Joyce-Armando Galarraga call or other famous blown calls – it was one that is quite often called the way it was called that day, even if it wasn’t ideal. For as much as we want ultra-precision in baseball, we’re never gonna get it on that play. ”

No, we’re never gonna. But no matter how you twist it, there isn’t any difference between the Runge call or the Joyce call. They were both judgments. The difference is in how the media handled the two plays. The Joyce/Galarraga play was run over and over so we could clearly see that the call was blown. The Runge/Ryan play wasn’t.

The issue isn’t the umpire’s right to make a judgment call. The issue is why aren’t we, the fans, allowed the proper evidence with which to evaluate his call?

“Normally,” writes Calcaterra, “we don’t see batters have such a reaction to a check swing call, even on a third strike” – like Ryan did, turning to scream at Runge about the call. “That’s more an eyes-roll thing. Some of us are upset, I think, because Ryan was upset and the play ended kinda messy, what with the ball going to the backstop and stuff. It happens.” Yeah, stuff kinda happens. Stuff also kinda gets misinterpreted.

Calcaterra thinks that’s “Brendan Ryan’s reaction to the call may be influencing Barra and others who are critical here.” I can’t speak for others, but Ryan’s reaction has nothing to do with what I’m saying. First — and I regard this a rather irrelevant point but I’ll throw it in for what it’s worth – the reason Ryan argued the call in that circumstance instead of just rolling his eyes at the ump is fairly obvious: it was the last play of the game and therefore he couldn’t get thrown out for arguing balls and strikes.

But let’s sweep all this aside. My point is that cameras are placed at every conceivable game at a major league baseball game to give us, the fans, the information we need to evaluate the correctness of an umpire’s call. That didn’t happen on this play, and I don’t like that. I would think real fans and critical sportswriters wouldn’t like it either.

I’ve got no dog in this fight. I’m happy for Humber if he throws a perfect game, and, frankly, was rooting for him in that situation. But it looks an awful lot to me as if he made a lousy pitch – which would have been absolutely heartbreaking – and Brian Runge bailed him out with a bad call in a key situation for which he did not even wait for the judgment of his colleague. I would like very much not to believe that Runge made a bad call, but I can’t because no one has shown me the replay that would vindicate Runge’s decision.

And it makes me very uneasy when so many in the sports media are simply ready to jump on the bandwagon and declare anyone asking questions about what happened as being spoilsports. It’s our JOB to ask questions like this, even if Fox Sports doesn’t. In fact, ESPECIALLY if Fox Sports doesn’t.