Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Ump Makes A Bad Call

      On June 2nd, umpire Jim Joyce called Cleveland Indians’ runner Jason Donald safe when almost everyone in the stadium, as well as the entire TV viewing audience, knew he was really out by at least a full step. The exceptions were Joyce and Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga, who was covering first base on the play. Joyce was wrong and Galarraga wasn’t sure. He had been called up from minor league team Toledo only 16 days earlier.
      It was a bad call, but it would probably not have been the object of undo excitement if it had happened in another game; they happen all the time. But this game was special, the call cost Galarraga a perfect game – 27 batters and 27 outs.
      In the entire history of major league baseball, there have been only 20 perfect games. Even Nolan Ryan, who threw seven no hit-no run games, never pitched a perfect game. Unbelievably, two of them occurred earlier this season. And this kid, who had been with the big club just over two weeks, was robbed of one.
      I have been a baseball fan for seventy years, and have probably seen hundreds of bad calls. Definition: a bad call is an umpire’s decision which is not in agreement with one’s own opinion of the play. If it goes against your team, it’s a disaster; if it goes against your team’s opponent – well, that’s baseball.
      Because of the huge audience to this particular play, calls have come from all sides for a wider use of the instant replay. Let me give you a short history of umpiring.
      In 1858 the umpire, sometimes a spectator, or even a player, was chosen by the home team with the consent of the visiting team’s captain. He stood, kneeled or sat on a stool along the first base line, recorded the game in a book, and made note of all the infractions of the Bylaws and Rules.
      He was concerned with guaranteeing fair play. If there was controversy on a particular play, he solicited opinion from the players involved, or even nearby spectators. Later on the umpire stood behind the catcher until someone got on base, at which point he moved behind the pitcher.
      Spectators often threw fruit, bottles, anything they could get their hands on onto the field to protest a “bad” call, and sometimes the umpires threw things back into the stands. Team owners soon realized that this type of activity boosted ticket sales, and resisted the idea of two umpires per game for a long time. It was during this period that fans originated the phrase “kill the umpire”, and they were not kidding.
      Professionalism took hold during the first two decades of the 20th century, with paid umpires getting the princely sum of five dollars per game. Soon the league put them on salary, e.g., 140 dollars per month plus per diem expenses of three dollars per day while traveling.
      Baseball has often been called a game of percentages, and the umpire’s decision adds a touch of human error to the game. Some percentage of any umpire’s calls are going to be bad, and that spices things up. As an earlier well known umpire said, “There are balls and there are strikes, but they are nothing until I call them.”
      And I think it would be taking some of the fun out of the game if electronic decisions were substituted for human ones. Beside, the game is long enough already; having to stop a few times for review would make it boring. Also, a little uproar over an occasional bad call is fun.
      Another hew and cry has arisen over the Jim Joyce decision: calls for commissioner, Bud Selig, to overturn the decision and give Galarraga his perfect game. The rule is that an umpire’s decision may be overturned if the umpire requests a conference with his fellow umpires, then changes the call himself. This didn’t happen – until he saw the replay, Joyce was sure he was right.
      Imagine the calls for review and change that would ensue if Selig were to overturn the rule in this instance. Talk about a slippery slope - he would not have time for anything else.
      Besides, what’s the use of having rules if they can be overturned at will. I know, common sense should be the rule, but this is not a life changing event – it’s about grown men playing a boy’s game. Follow the rules.
      One more thing – Joyce actually cried when he saw the replay. He said, “I blew it.” He apologized to Galarraga, and the next day he received the lineup card from him and they shook hands.
      I must admire Joyce for his willingness to admit his error and to take responsibility. Two thumbs up for him – that sort of response doesn’t happen very often these days.
      And two thumbs up for Galarraga for the way in which he kept his cool at the call, and the grace with which he accepted Joyce’s apology. That is also not that common in sports, or in life, these days.
      Also two thumbs up for the Detroit Tigers and General Motors – they gave Galarraga a new Corvette, not because he lost the perfect game, but for his handling of the situation. It kind of takes some of the sting out of the disappointment he must have felt.
      Through the action of the Spirit, man arrived at the next logical step: whatever moved man also moved other entities. In particular, primitive man conceived the concept that animals possessed feelings and intelligence, and like men, they also possessed a soul.
      Man Takes Control – The Spirit Runs Through It.

      The book and/or a free look inside is available in paperback or on Kindle at Amazon.

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