Perfect shame |

Perfect shame

Michael Zucker, Special to the Tribune
Home plate umpire Jim Joyce wipes tears during the exchange of lineup cards between Cleveland Indians bench coach Tim Tolman, left, and Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, right before a baseball game in Detroit Thursday, June 3, 2010. Galarraga lost his bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning on a disputed call at first base by Joyce on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Major League Baseball, the relatively dull sport where action consumes a tiny fraction of a game’s length, proved last week that it remains mired in old-fashioned no-tech stagnation, courtesy of Bud Selig, its controversial commissioner.

On June 2, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga pitched nine innings of spotless ball. They keep calling his performance a near-perfect game, but that’s what it wasn’t. You see, he actually pitched a perfect game: 27 opposing Cleveland Indian batters up, 27 batters out.

But it doesn’t show that way in the game’s statistical summary because of an error that belonged to first base umpire Jim Joyce who blew the call on the final out. Arms spread wide and palms down as the throw from Miguel Cabrera lodged in the glove of Galarraga covering first – a split second before Cleveland batter Jason Donald’s foot crossed the bag – Joyce ruled the Indians’ hitter safe.

Well, here’s another error. This one’s on Selig. What’s more, it’s not just an error. It’s a mistake on steroids. Maybe Chicago Sun Times columnist Jay Mariotti had a point. He once called Selig, the man who for five years has been in the middle of the controversy over some ballplayers’ use of performance enhancing substances, “The Steroids Commissioner.”

A few days ago I relished the thought that we Americans finally had an issue that could unite the country and garner support from Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, etc. Surely everyone who saw the television image of Donald being thrown out at first would want Galarraga credited with his perfect game. Well, maybe with the possible exception of Rush Limbaugh, who might opine that the entire furor is President Obama’s fault!

Those thoughts, however, were dashed during the last few days in the wake of my reviewing several opinion polls. A Cleveland Plain Dealer survey asked whether Selig should do nothing or reverse the call. With 1,500 votes tallied as of Sunday night, the score was 61 percent to 18 percent favoring reversal. The Los Angeles Times, however, recorded 7,251 votes with 62 percent saying Joyce’s call should stand and 38 percent favoring an overrule. SportsBlog Nation asked whether Selig should award Galarraga a perfect game; with 1,022 votes tallied, the ayes outpolled the nays 74 percent to 25 percent. I guess we’re still a divided nation!

The disunity does not extend to the two men at the center of the incident. The next day Galarraga and Thursday’s home plate umpire Joyce met at the dish when the former handed in that game’s Tigers’ starting lineup. Each patted the other on the back. Joyce repeated the apology that he had given on Wednesday after watching the videotape of the incident. The pitcher praised Joyce: “It takes a lot to say you’re sorry and say in interviews he made a mistake,” he told reporters.

Arguments supporting Selig’s apparent decision to not change the official record are based on concerns about opening a Pandora’s Box of past controversies. No one is arguing that Donald was safe, including the player himself who said the next day, “Yeah, I was out.” Umpire Joyce, practically drowning in remorse, lamented, “I took a perfect game away from that kid …”

After the game, even Selig said “There is no dispute that last night’s game should have ended differently.”

So, Mr. Commissioner, the buck stops where? If there’s no dispute, why not man up and exert your authority to right the wrong the way your umpire did in acknowledging his missed call?

Mike Celizic of NBC Sports is adamant. “This was a no-brainer decision, which means Selig was singularly qualified to make it. There were no ramifications other than to correct an egregious injustice and relieve Joyce of the crushing guilt he feels at having blown the biggest call of his life. The game result would remain the same. The score would remain the same.”

Other sports have joined the 21st century with their use of video replays that either corroborate the accuracy of close calls or correct those infrequent human referee or umpire errors. Witness the late fourth quarter of game 3 of the NBA finals: There were three video reviews within a two-minute time span. If indisputable evidence is available that will provide justice, why not use it? I mean, we’ve freed prisoners on death row when new evidence proved that they were wrongfully convicted. Why must America’s national pastime persist in archaic practices where the need for change is so past time?

Renowned documentary film producer Ken Burns, who brought us the brilliant television documentary series “Baseball,” is optimistic. He predicts that last Wednesday’s contest will eventually become “a perfect game.”

“Baseball, as you know, works in glacial ways,” he told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. “Eventually all this stuff will get together … We’re just taking depositions right now.”

– Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities, Inc.

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