That "perfect" game

While I’m on the topic of baseball, let me get back to that “perfect” game, the controversy over which is not going away. I’ve flip-flopped on whether Armando Galarraga should be given a perfect game retroactively. As much as we all know he was robbed, I’ve landed on the unpopular side of not having the box score rewritten.

Initially, I thought that he certainly should be credited with one, as doing so would have a negligible impact on stats: subtract 1 from his hits allowed; subtract 1 hit from that 27th batter who was credited with it; and obliterate the at bat for the 28th batter who made the final out. The win-loss column, pitching records, and all other stats neatly remain the same. Had the umpires decided to huddle to get the call right and overturn the on-field decision, I would have been fine with that. But, the game played out and Galarraga got robbed. All he gets is an asterisk. It’s sad, but it happens.

I just don’t think you can go back and make things right for one pitcher, regardless of the small statistical impact it might have for that one game, and ignore all other errant umpiring that has had larger impacts for entire teams. That is, if we’re interested in getting things right, do we award the 1985 World Series to the Cardinals? I had compiled a short list of other blatantly wrong game-deciding (or at least significantly impacting) calls, and these were calls from playoff games in baseball, football, and hockey, but I’ll skip mentioning any others, as any of us with a decent sports memory can come up with our own examples of how umpires and referees have had an impact on the game.

The outcome of this poor call was more about its impact on an individual achievement than anything else. The more I think about it, perfect games are really just rare events. I mean, there have been 20 official ones now. Don Larsen’s in the 1956 World Series is probably the most famous. I remember as a kid liking Catfish Hunter’s 1974 baseball card that touted his 1968 gem, and I can rattle off the pitchers of a bunch of other ones too. If you look at the list of perfect game hurlers, however, you’ll find a couple of sub .500 pitchers, some mediocre pitchers, some very good pitchers, and of course some other Hall of Famers. Those Hall of Fame pitchers would have been in there without their perfectos. Looking ahead, Randy Johnson is going to be in there, but his perfect game is not the reason why. David Wells and David Cone each pitched one for the Yankees in the late 1990s, and they both had some really good years and finished their careers with nice numbers, but their gems won’t put them over the top in earning a spot in Cooperstown. So, while it is indeed a nice thing to have on the pitching resume, it really is little more than that.

The best that MLB can do with the ignominy of this umpiring error is improve as a result of it. The umpires can convene and reverse calls on the all-mighty home run, and I think it is time they go further. Adopting the imperfect NFL model would be a nice upgrade for baseball—allow each team, say, one or two reviews per game. Determining whether a runner is safe or out at any base, whether a ball has landed fair or foul, and whether a fielder has made a catch or trap are three additional types of plays that come to mind as being reviewable. Just like football has its non-reviewable types of plays, especially for subjective calls, baseball should stay away from reviewing balls and strikes. Worried about lengthening the game? Nobody wants that. On home run reviews, decisions are made quickly; really, all baseball reviews should be quicker than in football: there are fewer things to watch on a baseball play and there are no additional decisions to be made about such things as line of scrimmage or ball placement, whether and to what point a game clock should be reset, etc. Come on MLB, it’s time.

Finally, back to perfect: Though Galarraga was not officially credited with a perfect game, he is being rightfully recognized for his perfect demeanor after the very unfortunate call was made. Class act all the way!

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