By now, you should all be familiar with perhaps the worst baseball call in a generation. Detroit Pitcher Armando Galarraga was throwing a perfect game through 26 batters. 26 up, 26 down. Batter number 27 hit a ball to second base, Gallaraga covered first. It looked like the throw to first was in time, but the umpire, Jim Joyce–now the most unpopular man in Detroit–called the runner safe.
Watch the video, judge for yourself. But it really looked like the throw beat the runner.
Now, this was not a borderline call. But assuming it was a borderline call, and it really could have gone either way, should the Ump make the call in favor of the perfect game? I mean, if the Judge was totally 50/50, and not certain, should the prospects of calling a perfect game weigh on his mind?
If Judges are like umpires, should umpires be like Judges? If so, would a Judge evaluating the equities in this situation have called the runner out.
Let’s put on our Justice Breyer hats and consider all of the relevant interests.
First, think of the poor city of Detroit. What a horrible place (see all of my Detroit posts here)! Their former mayor is in prison. The entire economy of the city is collapsing. Their professional sports franchises are miserable. I have joked that the city is slowly reverting to the state of nature. A perfect game would have been such a boon! New Orleans won a Super Bowl. Throw MoTown a Perfect Game.
To quote Michael Moore on twitter, “Congrats 2 Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga 2nite on throwing a Perfect Ga… NOOOOOOOOO! WTF?! Now I’ve seen every type of crime here!”
(btw, I met Moore, and he was rather nice. For once, I agree with Big Mike).
Second, think of how special a 3rd perfect game in 3 weeks would have been. Totally unprecedented! What a boon to the sport. It would have generated excitement, increased popularity of the sport stil recovering from the Steroids debacle, and made America’s pasttime even more interesting.
Third, think of what would happen to umpires if you do not call the out. Joyce’s Wikipedia page has already been locked down due to vandalism. Before it was locked down, he was being attacked as one of the worst umpires ever. Taking a Barry Friedman-esque Will of the People approach to the umpires, certainly the umps need to take account of popular perception in making their calls. In the future, if a first base ump is in a similar situation, you can be certain the falling of Joyce will linger prominently in his mind.
Fourth, and perhaps most interestingly, even if the call was wrong, NO ONE WOULD CARE. The opposing manager would never come out to argue while the perfect pitcher is carried away triumphantly. No sanctions or penalties would ever be imposed. It is a total WIN-WIN.
But, I am not a fan of balancing tests. Umps should not consider the equities. Galaragga got robbed. But I am in favor of appellate review and correction of errors. This should be the nail in the coffin of purists who oppose replay cameras.