Ten years ago today gave us perhaps the most egregiously blown call in baseball history. With one out to go in a would-be perfect game, Tigers righty Armando Galarraga induced a soft tapper to the right side of the infield. First baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded it cleanly and fed the covering pitcher in time to beat the runner by a step.
Umpire Jim Joyce called him safe.
There were two primary reactions in the immediate aftermath. One was to blister Joyce over a terrible call. The other was to begin discussing, in depth and at length, the idea of universal instant replay.
Regarding the former, Joyce acquitted himself as well as anybody in his position might have. Upon watching a replay after the game, he tearfully proclaimed that “It was the biggest call of my career and I blew it,” and that “I cost that kid a perfect game.” Joyce apologized publicly, and Galarraga accepted. The class shown on both sides of the issue served as a beacon for those hopeful that grace and civility might be making a comeback to our society.
As for the latter reaction, instant replay was in use at that time, just not in a way that could have helped Galarraga. It had been implemented in 2008 with three express purposes: determining whether a ball was fair or foul; determining if a ball had left the playing field; and confirming possible fan interference on a home run. In 2014 the challenge system was implemented, and replay began to have significantly more effect. (I weighed in on the topic for The New York Times amid some pretty select company shortly after the game.)
My point at the time, which I reinforce now, is that there’s an unwritten-rules aspect to the call—this one covering umpires, not players—that could have prevented all of the ensuing trauma. Namely, that the first hit of a game must be clean.
It’s an easy one. Nobody—not the pitcher, not the opposition and especially not the umpire—wants a game to go into the books with the only hit allowed having been controversial … or, even worse, an incorrect call. This is especially pertinent late in the game, never mind with two outs in the ninth inning. Joyce himself said in the Detroit News that “This was a history call, nd I kicked the shit out of it.”
Had the runner that day, Jason Donald, actually beaten the throw by a half-step and been called out by Joyce, nobody would be talking about the call today.
At least it gives us some brief distraction while our country burns.