So what’s it like to attend a perfect game and have the umpire blow the call on the final out on a bang-bang play at first base?


Well, there was drama, plenty of drama, when Galarraga took the mound for the top of the last frame. And it only built as he retired the first two batters.


But then the drama came to a crashing halt due to the controversy that left first base umpire Jim Joyce, on the morning after blowing the biggest call of his 22-year big league umpiring career, the most despised man in Detroit.


Today—June 3, 2010—Joyce had to face the music: stand behind the plate to call balls and strikes in the final game of a three-game set between the Tigers and the Indians.


Let’s face it, from behind the Tigers dugout, where I sat last night, maybe 200 feet away from first base, the play certainly looked close. Being a lifelong Tigers fan, I wanted Jason Donald to be called out to preserve the perfect game, but I also wanted the right call, not a questionable call given to the home team because of an umpire’s desire to be part of history or to please the masses. I just couldn’t be sure Joyce hadn’t gotten the call right.


On the ride home, we listened to WXYT radio where the post-game show assured us that Galarraga had been cheated out of his perfect game. Still, I gave Joyce the benefit of the doubt. I thought maybe these two announcers were, in an attempt to stir up controversy before opening up the phone lines to irate fans, playing the bias card.


Then they played the interview with Joyce, just moments after the game, after he’d had a chance to watch the replays himself. Contrite isn’t the right word. This guy sounded devastated as he admitted to blowing the call. Told us he thought he’d made the right call, as he saw it, assured us he was in the right position and had the right angle to make the right call. “I just cost this kid a perfect game,” he said, nearly in tears.


By the time I got back to my former colleague’s house, Fox Sports Detroit was running the replay over and over and from different angles both at real time speed and slow motion. And you know what? No matter the angle, no matter the speed. Jason Donald was out. Not even close.


And this morning I wondered how 17,000 fans managed to get the call right and the one guy whose judgment mattered the most missed it.


Am I disappointed? You bet. My own brush with history—June 2, 2010, I was at Comerica Park the night Armando Galarraga twirled the first perfect game in Tigers history.




Say what you will about the New York Yankees—most World Series championships, best winning percentage in the history of the game, most hall of famers, on and on. But the Tigers were playing major league baseball before there was a Yankees team. Before they were the Yankees they were the Highlanders and the Highlanders were, for years, the worst team in baseball.


Yet on this night in early June, a muggy one at that with a 60 percent chance of rain, a kid took the mound for his third start of the season. This kid had a great sophomore year but struggled most of last year and didn’t even make the team out of spring training for the 2010 campaign. His first start he looked good, as good as he had two years ago. His last start he got knocked around.


I didn’t know what to expect from him this night. But I know I didn’t expect that he’d be flirting with destiny, still out there in the ninth inning, a mere 88 pitches under his belt, tossing not only a no-hitter but a perfect game no-hitter: no hits, no walks, no errors behind him. Not a single Indian had reached base after nine and two-thirds innings of play. Perfect.


Just like that gal from 30 years ago in my past: dark, mysterious, beautiful. Perfect. But she broke my heart, too.


Last night Jim Joyce broke my heart and the hearts of Tigers fans the world over. He stole a perfect game from Armando Galarraga, from the Tigers, from the fans—a history making performance for one of the oldest franchises in baseball, gone in the blink of an eye. A judgment call by the only guy in the house whose judgment was, well, wrong.


In my mind’s eye I recall waiting a long moment for the call, my eyes on Joyce, after Jason Donald crossed the bag. A moment of indecision on Joyce’s part? Had he wanted to call Donald out but for unknown reasons called him safe? Like a pitcher who misses a sign and crosses up his catcher, did Joyce simply mix up the safe call with the out call as the fans erupted in jubilation and Galarraga, grinning from ear-to-ear, prepared to leap into the arms of Cabrera but was stopped short as he heard Joyce’s call: “Safe!”?


We’ll never know what thought process Joyce went through before he signaled safe; only what he felt after he watched the replays.


There is talk this morning that instant replay in MLB should be revisited again. That Joyce’s gaffe is the straw that should break the camel’s back and force Bud Selig to implement instant replay. They cite the importance of getting it right, to heck with tradition, with the human element of the game.


Hogwash! As disappointed as I am, I feel that MLB should take the high road, as Joyce did last night in admitting that he blew the call, seeking out Galarraga to apologize to him, and stay the course.


A missed call is part of baseball. Always has been. It’s part of the beauty of the game and part of what separates baseball from other team sports.


A missed call rarely changes the outcome of a game; even rarer that it changes the outcome of a three-game series. And this missed call didn’t influence the outcome of the game—the Tigers still won!


Maybe the home team gets robbed on a Wednesday night, but Thursday afternoon they’re the recipient of a gift. It all evens out in the end.


You’ll argue that instant replay in the NFL is a godsend. Well, I’ll just say that in football, with a 17-game season as opposed to a 162-game season, it’s more important to get the call right because so much more is riding on each play of each game. Will a blown call in a baseball game in early June be remembered as the play that cost a team a playoff spot come October? Not likely. Not when there are so many other opportunities to make up for it.


In today’s modern game, when Bud Selig is looking for ways to shorten a game that routinely runs three hours or more, adding instant replay will only lengthen the average game.


And where do you draw the line? Instant replay on a checked swing? A balk?


Do you call balls and strikes from the center field camera? After all, a strike zone varies from game to game depending on who’s behind the plate, and even varies between the two leagues. A strike zone often changes based on how much control a pitcher may exhibit—it often seems to shrink for the pitcher struggling while it expands for the pitcher with good control; just as it seems to shrink in the later innings of a long game.


Why not put a sensor in every baseball and have the ball ring up a strike when it crosses the plate between the knees and the belt buckle of the hitter? That certainly would ensure getting it right wouldn’t it? We have the technology, so let’s take the human element entirely out of it—bells will ring, whistles sound, lights flash. Like a pinball machine, sure to draw the attention of young fans with short attention spans. How did I ever grow up in the 1960s watching such a boring game?


Want a good reason to keep instant replay out of baseball? Because baseball is a kids’ game and part of its beauty is the human element, as exemplified by the fact each park is unique.


You want to take the human element out, why not make every field the same, the dimensions identical, so that a homerun to right field at Yankee Stadium isn’t but a long out at Fenway.


Does baseball truly want to add more pressure to umpires? In the backs of their minds will they be thinking, I’ve gotta get this call right , and so, in the heat of any given moment, might they choke and blow it?


Part of the fun of going to a ballgame is calling out to the umpire that he missed the call. Would you rather see a manager casually stroll out to ask for a review, or see spittle fly and his face turn red as he shouts at the umpire before getting tossed?


And my final argument: instant replay will take away mornings like this one, listening to the fans and the media alike in an uproar over a missed call.


Armando Galarraga gets it; Ramon Santiago gets it: After Joyce apologized to Galarraga for blowing the call, in return Galarraga assured Joyce that no one is perfect; while Santiago said that he knows, in his heart, that Galarraga twirled a gem and he’s getting him to sign a baseball for him no matter what Joyce called on what should’ve been the final out of a perfect game.


And I feel the same way. It goes into the record book as a one-hitter. But Galarraga knows, as does Santiago and the rest of their teammates. And we fans know, too—those in attendance and those who watched the game the world over.


And even though we don’t need no steenkin’ umpire to tell us what we know is right, we’ve got one of those, too.


In 20 years, I’ll remember, along with everyone else who attended, the night at Comerica Park when Armando Galarraga threw the perfect game that no record book shows. Our shared memory of a night that can never be taken away from us—not by an umpire’s blown call or a missing statistic in a record book. We all know what we saw. And so, now, does Jim Joyce.


Congratulations, Armando, on your perfect game. And thanks, Jim Joyce, not only for manning up and admitting you blew it, but for taking the field on the afternoon after!



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