What to do about perfection

This season has already been historic for baseball. Rarely can we say that something has never happened before, but before Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden, there have never been more than 2 perfect games in a season. I imagine that in the 9th inning, people were astounded to think it might happen again, until Jim Joyce missed a call at first base and called a runner safe to blow Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.

Everyone is talking about this. Other than the specific events, I’ve purposely avoided my¬†usual baseball news to hopefully write something not entirely stolen from other writers. And so, let me begin to explain my strong opinions about something I don’t know very much about.

For me, there are 2 main issues that come out of this situation. First, should Commissioner Bud Selig reverse the call and grant Galarraga the perfect game? It’s within his power to make decisions for the best of the game, and many have said that he should. I believe that he is not obligated to reverse the call and probably shouldn’t. Second, what role should instant replay have in baseball? I believe that instant replay shouldn’t be a part of baseball.

Jim Joyce clearly made the wrong call. Galarraga clearly had his foot on the bag a full half-step before Jason Donald. Not only was this an incorrect call, it’s a badly incorrect call. Baseball is a game of inches, but when you can see on TV in real-time that a call was wrong, the play wasn’t that close. People aren’t calling for Bud’s intervention and a change in baseball policy because an umpire missed a call: that happens often enough that you’ll notice that baseball commentators will sometimes gloss the call when they show instant replays on TV (in comparison, I feel like basketball or football commentators will always point out when a foul is incorrectly called or missed). People are calling for Bud’s intervention because it was a dramatically significant moment, and all parties feel sorry about it, and I don’t think that’s good enough.

The most important point, though, is that reversing the call won’t make things right. In the history books, Armando Galarraga’s perfect game will always have an asterisk next to it, and that’ll diminish the significance of it. Who knows how many other significant achievements have or haven’t happened because of a call, whether balls or strikes, counting an infield hit as an error, or a play on an out. And if we’re just looking for getting things for the books, I actually think this game might be more notable if the call stands and is marked as one of the many oddities in baseball history.

It’s far too late, though. In fact, as soon as Joyce called him safe, it was too late. Watching old footage, perfect games end in the bench clearing and the whole team mobbing the pitcher, either jumping up and down or hoisting him up to the cheers of the entire stadium and radio announcers reading off the scoreboard. Galarraga will never have that moment (unless he pitches another perfect game), but it’s okay, because he as well as everyone else knows what he accomplished.

To be honest, though, I’m not really that interested in that story. I’m heartless and am not particularly interested in the human side of the story and am more interested in what happens with policy change in baseball. Here’s a case where instant replay would have helped to make the correct call. From an objective perspective, the video footage can’t lie. The argument against the use of instant replay tends to romanticize traditional aspects of the game. I am totally in favor of that. In a discussion over Facebook, a friend questioned whether it was truly right that we should be valuing human fallibility in judging. Well, when you put it that way, I guess not. But sort of yes.

The NHL, NFL, and NBA have all embraced instant replays as a part of the game. I actually think it’s ridiculous how much the NFL values instant replay when spotting the ball is very arbitrary, but I don’t often hear people complain about referees making more accurate calls. Instant replay has even become a part of baseball in ruling home run balls. Baseball is built upon a system of judgments calls. The strike zone will change over the course of the game, and that sort of interaction with the home plate umpire’s calls makes baseball interesting for me. Extending instant replays onto the field brings about a greater scrutiny that I’m not certain will benefit the game.

I know my perspective is absurdly conservative and naive, but I kind of like the game the way it is. Baseball is a slow sport, but it can’t be that slow. Compare, say, a Roy Halladay game to a Red Sox-Yankees game. In the former, the game is still slow, but Halladay works fast, and two hours later, you just watched a pitcher go after batters for 9 innings and craftily duel and retire the other side. In the latter, the game is still slow, and the rivalry is fun, but when Derek Jeter steps out of the batter’s box again, you wonder where the last 4 hours of your life went. Now, the introduction of instant replay can slow down the game even more. I know first-hand how much of a downer a play under review can be at a football game. In the middle of a usually close moment when you want to see things play out, the referees instead huddle, put on the headphones, and go into the tank while the crowd loses energy and maybe even sits down. What a drag.

I won’t stop watching if baseball does introduce instant replay more generally; it’ll still be a good game. I might, however, complain loudly unless instant replay remains solely in the judgment of the head umpire. Specifically, I don’t think it’s a right of the managers to challenge a play like in football. They can certainly discuss a call and ask why like they do now, but again, you just have to accept the calls as they come. If an umpire legitimately misses a call on the spot and wants more information, it’s not unreasonable to get help from the instant replay, but that’s the umpire’s call.

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