Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Armando Galaragga and the Need for Instant Replay in Baseball

On Wednesday night, with just one out to go in the game, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was wrongly denied a perfect game on a very bad call by umpire Jim Joyce. Here's Tom Verducci's account for
Joyce happened to be working first base Wednesday night in Detroit for the game between the Tigers and the Indians when infamy did not just tap him on the shoulder, it slapped him upside the head. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had just thrown the 21st perfect game in baseball history, and a ridiculous third perfecto inside of four weeks, when first baseman Miguel Cabrera threw to him covering first base on a grounder by Jason Donald for the 27th out. Cabrera celebrated. Only one thing was missing.

Jim Joyce called Donald safe.

There is no polite way to say this: Joyce blew the call. Galarraga caught the ball in plenty of time, even if it wedged precariously in the webbing of his glove, and scraped the base, even if inelegantly, with his foot. Immortal fame was his.

Jim Joyce took it away. He called Donald safe. No sign that Galarraga juggled the ball. No sign that he missed the base. Just safe. Pure and simple safe.

Umpires miss calls. It happens. Nobody feels worse when an umpire misses a call than the umpire himself. They are proud men who strive for a 100 percent success rate and are bound to be disappointed. Upon seeing a replay, Joyce was crushed.

"I just cost that kid a perfect game," the umpired admitted afterward. "I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

Give credit to Joyce for admitting that he made a bad call and taking responsibility. He also apologized personally to Galarraga.

It's encouraging when someone admits a mistake and owns up to it, but why should the mistake even stand? Why isn't there instant replay for extremely close calls, especially when fans get to watch those replays, in some cases over-and-over again? And especially when the person who made the mistake clearly would have corrected it had he been able?

Some might argue that instant replay would extend the time of already-too-long games. That is probably true, but if managers were limited to two or three replay challenges per game, presumably the impact on the time would not be too significant. Also, isn't accuracy and the fairness it promotes more important than whether games are five minutes longer?

Others place value in the tradition -- umpires haven't been able to use instant replay for calls and we should honor that tradition. First off, that isn't true, as in 2008, MLB umpires allowed for umpires to use instant replay to review whether fly balls are foul or home runs. But more important, who cares about a tradition if contemporary technology offers a better and fairer system? After-all, if instant replay technology had been around when baseball was created and developed, isn't there a good chance that it would have been adopted?

Opponents to instant replay have other reasons, and for a great defense of their position, check out Howard's 2007 piece titled "Against Instant Replay". Maybe he'll change his mind after watching the video above, though.

So do you support MLB adopting instant replay? If so, how would it work?