“They expect an umpire to be perfect on Opening Day and to improve as the season goes on.” – American League Umpire Nestor Chylak

Ol’ Nestor was right. You know what else?

It can’t be done.

Every umpire blows at LEAST one call per season. With luck, it’ll be on a half-swing in June that nobody notices or cares about.

Or, if you’re unlucky, (or Jim Joyce) the bang-bang call – and the attendant screwup – come on the 27th “out” of a perfect game.

Joyce used to be regarded as one of the best MLB umpires – maybe ever – and, this past season, despite the blown call that cost Galarraga his perfecto, he had the “maybe” removed, as players & coaches voted Joyce El Arbitro Grand Jefe Numero Uno.

Boy, that’s not to say that managers and players haven’t disagreed with Jimmy – have they ever – just ask Terry Francona, who’s trying hard not to get thrown out himself as his pitcher disappears behind him.

Joyce has never once ducked the tough call and he’s had more than his share. From strike zones (have you heard his strike call? migrating geese and the donkey at the zoo a few blocks away take notice of strike two) to “catch/no-catch”, an MLB ump HAS to be tough to take the criticism.

After all, none other than Harry Wendelstadt said, “

If they did get a machine to replace us, you know what would happen to it? Why, the players would bust it to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a bat.”

Right again.

So why is Jim Joyce considered the best ump – “despite” blowing that most famous of calls?

Well, since “despite” is in italics, I’m sure you’ve already figured it out – it’s not “despite” blowing the call, it’s BECAUSE he blew the call…then had the humanity to say, not just admit, but lay claim to the blown call.

Joyce also had the humanity, displayed by one of the intrusive on-field cameramen that I loathe, to get so emotional that he outright cried as Galarraga brought him the lineup card the next day at home plate.

It was that admission that allowed Galarraga to stand with Joyce onstage at the ESPY Awards, where they co-presented the ESPY for “Best Moment”.

In today’s umpire culture (yes, there is such a thing) the “macho drill-sergeant” ego-driven “don’t f— with me, kid” attitude is still king. Umps don’t like to be questioned, especially those insecure enough to refuse admissions of wrongdoing; it takes a pretty big man (and some darn good women, too) to admit, in front of EVERYONE at the park, that he “blew it”.

The coaches and players are part of the problem in a lot of cases; fueled by major-league rants shown by every cable show from ESPN to SportsNet, they think they have to freak out or the ump will “just keep screwing” them. (It’s a quote from a coach I work with.)

I’ve found just the opposite; that, when I blow one that is pointed out to me, and I let my shoulders droop and say, “Sorry, guy, I blew that one – but no make-ups, okay?” that the player/coach/fan/parent suddenly doesn’t have any gas left in their tank – what are they going to shout about now?

I don’t do it to cut their legs out from under them.  I do it because I know I’ve gotten as high as I’m going to get in baseball as an umpire, and because I was raised to “do the right thing” at all costs.

To me, that means fixing it when you screw up – and if you can’t admit it, even to yourself, then doesn’t that doom you to make the same mistake over and over and over again…?

When I order my new uniforms next year, I’ll be asking the tailor to stitch #66 – Joyce’s number – on the sleeves. Heck, I’ve even subtly hinted to my friends that I’d love a #66 MLB umpires’ jersey for my birthday – Dirk Hayhurst’s “The Bullpen Gospels” can wait until Christmas.

I’ll wear sixty-six with pride – and hope I can get my photo taken with Joyce sometime this year or next.

Why not?

Hey, the guy has the most guts of any ML umpire ever to grace our fields; you don’t screw with Jim Joyce – not even if you’re Jim Joyce.

Honor? Integrity? Bravery? Trust? All that and more – in spades…

…all because he could admit that he blew it, something I hope all young umpires coming up, learning the ART of umping, will decide they have the guts to emulate.

Come on, Blue…be like Joyce.


(Postscript: I hope MLB has the same guts, eventually, as Joyce and rewards both Galarraga AND Joyce by giving Galarraga the first ever 18-out perfect game in Major League history, setting a great precedent for righting ADMITTED wrongs. Might be the only way an umpire ever makes it into the Hall.)

Mark Dewdney is a failed player, and, as a result, a long-time Ontario umpire, typically found on a midget, junior or senior ballfield somewhere in Toronto.

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