Last night, as I was sitting at home, I saw the news come across that Ken Griffey Jr., one of the best players in the game, at least in this era, had retired.

I remembered watching his first years in Seattle and being so awestruck by not only his effortless left-handed swing but also by the speed he had in the outfield. He made highlight reel play after highlight reel play that will continue to be watched by the next generation of fans.

Not only that, but he survived the steroid era and proved that a player can be great without using illegal supplements to do it.

His 22 seasons, 630 career home runs, 11 Gold Gloves and 13 All-Star appearances are evidence enough for what kind of player Griffey was. His numbers spoke to the kind of athlete he was on the field, but the way he went out last night spoke to the kind of person he was off the field.

Instead of going out complaining about his lack of playing time or making excuses for the kinds of numbers he was putting up this season, he told the media in a prepared statement that he didn’t want to be a distraction to his teammates. He said that he had told the Mariners, prior to them signing him this season, that he didn’t want to become a bigger story than the team.

So, with that said, Griffey decided that enough was enough and said good-bye to the game that he had dominated for so long. The unfortunate thing for Griffey is that his constant injuries may have kept him out of the 700 home run club and prevented him from putting up bigger career numbers in other categories.

Griffey rode off into the sunset as the top news story in sports last night. It was supposed to be his night. Fans and the media would talk about and celebrate his career, talk about his Hall of Fame potential and just when that phone call might come.

A few hours later, however, another news story made Ken Griffey Jr’.s retirement back page news.

In Detroit young pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game going against the Cleveland Indians. A perfect game saved in the ninth inning thanks to a spectacular catch by outfielder Austin Jackson, a catch that would have made Willie Mays stand up and cheer.

So, with two outs in the ninth inning, Galarraga got Indians’ shortstop Jason Donald to ground just to the right of first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera fielded it perfectly and flipped it to the covering Galarraga, who beat Donald to the bag.

It should have been a perfect game; it should have been a historic night for the 28-year-old right-hander. Instead, umpire Jim Joyce saw it differently and called Donald safe at first, sending the Detroit fans and players alike into a frenzy.

Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, along with Galarraga’s teammates, attempted to argue their case to Joyce but to no avail. The call would stand.

After the game, Galarraga tried to answer questions, but he was unquestionably upset about being robbed. Who wouldn’t be?

Even Jason Donald, when asked after the game, told reporters , “I didn’t know if I beat the throw or not. But given the circumstances, I thought for sure I’d be called out.”

Saying all that, most umpires would try to defend themselves and say they got the call right because they don’t want to admit to being wrong. Joe West, are you listening?

But Jim Joyce showed a lot of class by doing exactly the opposite. In fact, he owned up to being wrong while answering questions after the game.

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it,” Joyce told reporters after the game . “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”

Joyce continued and said he didn’t blame the Tigers one bit for how they felt. “I don’t blame them a bit for anything that was said. I would’ve said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”

In fact, Joyce took it one step further and sought out Galarraga after he spoke with the media.  He gave the young pitcher a hug, admitted to being wrong, and asked for forgiveness.

“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, `Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,”’ Galarraga said after talking with Joyce . “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”

That’s a real show of class by an umpire who got the call wrong and changed what could have been one of the highest highs for Armando Galarraga into a “what could have been” kind of night.

Still, I give Joyce a lot of credit for owning up as well as for apologizing to Galarraga personally. It’s not often you see an umpire go to those lengths after a blown call like that.

So, a night that started with the celebration of a great player’s career ended with controversy and anger at an umpire.

The one question that will be burning up the airwaves today, especially in Detroit, is whether there is a need for more instant replay in baseball. Though home runs can be reviewed, that’s as far as the rule goes.

Baseball is already looked at as one of the longest sports out there. Adding more instant replay will only further that opinion, regardless of how much it’s needed.

I think of it this way. How often would instant replay really be used? Does baseball know when to stop? Instant replay could have given young Galarraga a perfect game last night, but what if this one hit had led to an Indians come-from-behind victory? In that instant, do you really take a win away and change the course of one team’s season?

This debate is going to be a hot button topic for a long time to come until either baseball adopts full instant replay or comes to an agreement that it can only be used in situations like this.

Either way, situations like this will continue to rear their ugly head.


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