Thursday, June 03, 2010

Portrait of the umpire as a sad man

How many pitchers mounds can Alex Rodriguez cut across?  Shortly after a tiff with A-Rod about ballplayer etiquette, The A's Dallas Braden shut down the Rays on May 9.  Then Philadelphia's Roy Halladay punked the Marlins on Mother's Day.  (This completed a Phillies Family Holiday perfecto, as Philly's Jim Bunning set down 27 straight Mets on Father's Day in 1964.  Take note - Grandparent's Day is September 12 this year.)

Last night we nearly had a third A-Rod Crossing, with Detroit's Armando Galarraga setting down 26 consecutive Cleveland Indians.  And then... well, you can see it for yourself.  (Maybe the problem is that the Indians aren't from Florida.  A fictional owner tried to move them there, but both she and Galarraga were thwarted with two out in the ninth.)

I saw this in a very loud sports bar.  From the look of it, I thought that Galarraga may have bobbled the ball as he caught it - you see that it's much more visible than normal on a play like that.  It was later that I saw, and read, that umpire Jim Joyce thought the runner had beaten the throw.

God bless Jim Joyce.  He was convinced that he was right, so he made the call, no matter how tough it would be.  That is not easy.  Those calls are always so close.  Had this been a routine fourth-inning grounder in a game where the Indians had already gotten a hit, nobody would remember it five minutes later.  Now the guy may unfairly go down in history with the rest of the world's refs who've completely blown it, and on a play that's always tricky to get right, that can honestly be missed.

From that link above there's a gallery of infamous blown calls.  You'll notice as you scroll through that Joyce has been helpfully included.  Some of the others in the list are far worse, though.  For example, the "fifth down" touchdown for the University of Colorado was far worse because it was easily preventable.  Not even included on the list is the bizarre incident from last season's playoffs, when two Yankees wound up stuck at third - neither of them actually standing on the bag! - but Tim McClelland ruled one safe after he was tagged.*

* McClelland is on the list elsewhere, though - the Pine Tar Game.  He was the home plate ump that ruled George Brett out on Billy Martin's appeal, leading to one of the more memorable sports meltdowns ever... and leading to the bizarre four-out conclusion much later in the year.

But really, McClelland at least had a base to stand on in the Pine Tar Game.  And he was dealing with the wily Billy Martin, who never missed a trick, who would invent tricks if there were none to miss at the moment; in a situation where there was no specific rule or precedent.  The more recent one - how do you not know that a stationary runner is not in fact standing on the base?  Joyce had to watch the runner, the pitcher, the ball, and do it all at full-speed with the call deciding whether or not the pitcher had just completed a perfect game.  To me that's far less culpable.

(And not for nothing: one of these calls shouldn't be on that list at all.  Brett Hull's goal was good.  He's allowed to be there with possession of the puck, even if the puck itself is not in the crease when it's shot.)

What do you all think?  Should the Commissioner's Office overturn the call and give Galarraga the perfect game?

UPDATE - today Jim Joyce is working behind the plate at the Tigers game.  Detroit sent Galarraga out to hand in their lineup card before the first pitch, and while Joyce sobbed, the Detroit crowd gave them a standing ovation.  Goosebumps.  That's true class and grace.  Appropriate label has been added below.

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