Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Blown Call and the Perfect Game that Wasn't

As all the baseball world knows by now, last night Detroit's pitcher Armando Gallaraga had baseball immortality wrested from him by a call blown by 22-year umpiring veteran Jim Joyce. This episode is so rich with tragic and dramatic content that it's hard to know where to begin. First, their is the obvious pain and sense of loss suffered by Gallaraga, a veteran from Venezuela who may never show more than what he did last night, probably never win 20 games, or pitch a no-hitter or have a particulalrly stellar year. No-hitters and perfect games give the opportunity for baseball immortality to some who would otherwise never be remembered. Consider Hideo Nomo, the Japanese pitcher who pitched two no-hitters in his major leagie career. Without the no-hitters, he would be remembered as a good pitcher with control problems. Instead, he can lay claim to having pitched two more no-hitters than all Mets pitchers in the histroy of the team. Now, Gallaraga will be remembered only for his perfect game that was never reorded, and he will simply be a footnote in baseball trivia.

A sub-context of yesterday's drama is also that Gallaraga's perfect game would have been the third one this season, with an earlier one pitched by Dallas Braden of the A's and a second by Roy Halladay of the Phillies. With only 20 perfect games pitched in the last 100 years or so of basbeall history, a third perfect game in 2010would have been way out on the outlier scale. Baseball pundits would have started discussing why so many perfect games all of a sudden - was it just a statistical anomaly, or was it caused by something else, perhaps the reduced use of steroids among hitters? These discussions were averted by the blown call.

Another point of drama the personal agony with which umpire Jim Joyce is apparently suffering. After the game, he immediately checked the replay and then admitted that he had made a mistake. He went to Gallaraga, and in tears, apologized. Had the blown call occured in an earlier inning the hoopla may not have been as great. The blown call may have been almost history by the ninth inning. Perhaps still wrong but probably not something to dwell on.

There is also the issue of whether or not Gallaraga still pitched a perfect game, regardless of the call. One could argue that he stil did. Every replay indicates that the call was blown, so in effect Gallaraga did pitch a perfect game, it just has not been recorded as such.

This is just some fodder for discussion. There is much more to this story that can be explored - the economic situatino in Detroit, the role in the final play by Migueel Cabrera, the issue of technology and review of replays, Gallaraga's first reaction, his answer to an interview question (Nobody's perfect) etc. Much more to be said about this incident.