Like a good citizen of the fair nation of sport, a loyal observer of the church of baseball, I saw every possible angle of umpire Jim Joyce blowing a call that would have been the final out in Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game. By now we all know, he flubbed it. He missed it. He was booed, his family was taunted. He stood out on the field and let everyone have their word with it. Galarraga was a pillar of strength. He didn’t argue, he smiled in shock and proceeded to retire the next batter for the hypothetical 28th out.
After the game, Joyce watched the replay and apologized to the young pitcher. It is a rare time when an umpire ever admits a mistake. Joyce did and with tears in his eyes took responsibility for his mistake. Now, as Americans watching the American Game, it’s our duty to let it go. Even if it is so much more than a game, it is only a game. That is the beauty of it.
I woke up this morning to SportsCenter and felt sick. Greasy bastards, vagrants, NFL people were extolling the virtues of implementing a real instant replay system into baseball. My stomach turned. In our instant gratitude society, the same thing that gives us terrible 24 hour media now is pushing instant replay on baseball. Let me talk you out of it. But first, understand why we’re talking about it…
We simply cannot handle that sometimes things are unfair in life. I bet you have been dumped or cheated on in your life. When that happens, you always want a do-over, but in life you don’t get mulligans. You always learn the hard way that you can’t go back. You go forward. You find someone better. That is what you do. The American charges the beach and accepts the hardship knowing full well that the green meadow is just over the flaming hilltop. You get fired, you go get a better job. You get dumped, you go find a better mate. That is the way we do it.
We don’t beat up the umpire, especially when he apologizes. Today, the Tigers got it right. They had Galarraga bring the lineup card out to Joyce, who was working home plate. They shook hands. The crowd applauded the gesture. The players, the people, they got it right. Quick. Name the other 21 perfect games that were thrown. Hard to do, isn’t it? Our entire generation will remember the curious case of Jim Joyce and the 28th out. We will remember the pure sportsmanship of two men shaking hands at home plate and putting it behind them. They are both getting paid to do the work of children, to play baseball for money and for the pleasure of the American people. They shook hands and said we’ll do better next time.
Of course, an ESPN poll showed 75% (roughly) of Americans wanted commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call and award the perfect game to Galarraga. Decisions should not be made in passionate times. Even worse, part of baseball is that it is officiated by humans, not machines. If the umpire gets it wrong, that is a part of the game. That is why the umpire is a revered figure and a football referee is just a meat popsicle in a Good Humor outfit. He has machines to have his back. The baseball rule book is as complicated as a constitution and an umpire walks a fine line. Baseball is freakish and strange. It is a sport driven by statistics, but hampered by inaccuracies. A ball and a strike are always up for interpretation. The other night the Dodgers won a game when the umpire called a balk on an Arizona Diamondback reliever. That is a subjective call. If the replay conclusively showed the kid didn’t balk, would we be demanding the game be reversed?
Of course not. So why is this one being treated like the spark that exploded the replay powder keg?
Because we feel bad for the kid. He came so close. We all know that feeling and how bad the injustice is. The thing is, that kid got something that the other men who tossed perfect games did not. He won the heart of every baseball fan. He won the heart of the umpire that screwed him. He will forever be loved by the fans of Detroit. In a game where legacies shift and turn and rise and fall, he won an emotional game with the baseball world. He could flame out and never win another game, but he will be loved and respected. The world dealt him a bad hand and he took it and smiled. He was a man that day. Joyce was a man for admitting he was wrong. The fans of Detroit, manager Jim Leyland were all men for applauding. Sometimes in life you get it wrong and all you can do is nod. The Old Man and the Sea was not a classic because the guy caught the fish, made a million dollars and started banging Sofia Vergara.
Football moves faster. It’s an ugly game. There are heaps of broken bodies clawing for inches and yards. There are many things happening at once. Football is my second favorite sport, so please understand that I am not being an elitist. I’m being a purist. Football can use instant replay. It is not a sport of poets and heroes and villains. It is a sport of gladiators. The steroid issue is treated vastly different in both sports. Some people say that is because baseball is about stats. I don’t buy it. It’s because baseball and football are different. There are no “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalties in baseball. If you act like an asshole, they eject you. You don’t play once a week, you play every day. There is always tomorrow, next year. It’s not that baseball is better. It’s different.
I would hate to see baseball change. I am still upset there is a DH in the American League. It represents a way baseball wanted to be like someone else. The joy of making a pitcher hit is strategically important, comically amazing and a great life lesson is rooting for the underdog. The joy of a pitcher smacking a double down the line and running like a chicken around the bases is not lost on me.
I’ll wrap this up. The point is we don’t need replay. We don’t need anything. We need to get over it and celebrate the kid for winning the game for his team. We need to celebrate the umpire for apologizing. Then we need to do it all again tomorrow until it simply isn’t summer anymore. Sportswriters need to get over it. Umps blow calls all the time. Shortstops boot ground balls. Sportswriters often have nothing to talk about but write something anyway.
We should all be so lucky to come so close to greatness in life. Even better to be loved so much for trying.