Armando Galarraga showed potential in 2008, his rookie year, posting a 3.73 ERA in 28 starts. But it has since gone unrealized, and he spent most of this past season pitching to minor leaguers at various levels of the Houston Astros’ system. Before the marginalized right-hander faded, though, he had his chance to enter the history books. On the evening of June 2nd, 2010, with the Detroit Tigers facing the Cleveland Indians, he retired the first 26 batters he faced. By turning rookie utility man Jason Donald into an out, Galarraga, an unlikely hero, would achieve the 21st perfect game in 135 years of Major League Baseball history.
Jim Joyce will live in infamy after one terrible call. (Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE)
Unfortunately, perfection met the human element that night in the form of first base umpire Jim Joyce. In the batter’s box, Donald swung at an off-speed pitch over the outside part of the plate. He made faint contact and the ball rolled lazily to about halfway between first and second base. First baseman Miguel Cabrera ranged to his right, fielded, planted his feet and flipped the ball to Galarraga covering first for what looked like an easy out. The ball and the pitcher beat Donald to the bag by nearly a full step, but the umpire waved “safe!” The bewildered faces of Galarraga, Cabrera and even Donald, who put his hands on his helmet in disbelief, screamed what many of us were thinking: baseball needs instant replay.
Joyce, responsible for what fans will remember as one of the greatest sporting injustices of all time, admitted the error soon after. Choked up, he told reporters in a postgame press conference, “No, I did not get the call correct. I kicked the sh*t out of it.” He continued for over five minutes to lament his mistake to reporters, saying, “It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the sh*t out of it.” But once he made the call, true reconciliation went well beyond his reach. In baseball, when it comes to blown calls, what’s done is done. Thanks to institutional stubbornness, Joyce will spend the rest of his life haunted by a single mistake.
Baseball does use replay, but only on possible home runs—to determine whether the ball left the field in fair territory, whether it cleared the fence and whether a fan interfered. The system is quick and effective; in 2010, after two full seasons of use, umpires had consulted video 123 times, resulting in 48 overturned rulings. In the interest of justice, rather than limiting the range of such useful technology, baseball executives should do all within their power to limit violations of equity. The need for baseball to finally accept technology is increasingly apparent considering 69% of U.S. households can see replays themselves in high definition.
Those who identify themselves as baseball purists or traditionalists heartily object, on the arrogant grounds that their game is beyond correction. Reid Forgrave of FOXSports.com, a member of this camp, wrote “Instant replay will kill one of baseball’s finest traditions.” True advocates of baseball purism, however, would not only call for the league’s contraction to fewer teams, the end of the designated hitter and the squelching of instant replay. They would also clamor for a return to the original “Knickerbocker Rules,” made in 1845, from which the current baseball rulebook has evolved. The inaugural set of written rules designated pitchers should toss the ball underhanded and the first team to 21 runs should win the game, with no innings limit. Obviously, the game has made positive changes since 1845, the year during which one could say baseball took its “purest” form.
If the traditionalist argument falls, dissenters assert this hypothetical change would simply not yield a positive effect on baseball. Their primary reasoning is baseball games, which already have a difficult time keeping the attention of casual fans, would slow even more with the addition of instant replay. Steven Hirsch of TheHuffingtonPost.com asserted, “The more managers protest, the more plays get reviewed, and the more games get prolonged.” Hirsch’s point, while seemingly intuitive, has its flaws. If the league expanded replay, the time taken to review close plays would only replace current wastes of time. With video review, much of the time it takes for managers and players to argue and for umpires to subsequently conference about their calls could be eliminated. Further, in some cases, like the one at the end of Galarraga’s perfect game that wasn’t, the correct call would have ended the game sooner than the incorrect one.