Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recognizing Perfection

It’s in the “best interests of baseball” for Commissioner Bud Selig to declare last nights’ effort by Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga “a perfect game.” He should do so quickly and unequivocally.

For those unaware of the circumstances, a perfect game is when a pitcher retires 27 consecutive outs over nine innings, not allowing any batter to reach base through a hit, a walk, an error or by being hit by a pitch. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. In baseball history, it’s happened just 20 times in 135 years, though interestingly twice already this season. With the help of his fielders, especially centerfielder Austin Jackson who made a sensational catch in the 9th and last inning to preserve the perfect game opportunity, Galarraga stood on the threshold of baseball history. With just one more out to go for a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians, he induced a ground ball from Jason Donald. It was a tough play. Hit between the first and second basemen, the ball was picked up by first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He threw to first base where Galarraga caught what he thought was the final out of his masterpiece, a moment before Donald touched the base. His celebration was cut short by umpire Jim Joyce’s signal that Donald had beaten the throw, that he was safe. Galarraga was stunned, but kept his composure enough to get the next batter, Trevor Crowe, to ground out to end the game, now officially recorded as a one-hitter. After the game Joyce viewed a replay of the call and admitted he made a mistake. It should have been a perfect game.

Of course there’s no precedent for Selig to change the call to award perfect game status. That’s what setting a precedent means. It’s a first-time event, and this incident has all the variables in the exact, perfect position so that it will not become a constant reference point. Because it should have been the last out of the game, and the next batter made out, the flow of the game was not changed. Every batter got up in the exact inning and spot he would have throughout the game. That would not have happened had the blown call occurred in, say, the fifth inning. By happening to the 27th batter, who should have been the last batter, the mistake is reversible with little consequence. The only changes required would be denying a hit to Donald and removing a failed at bat from Crowe’s career statistics.

Selig used his commissioner’s powers a few years ago to stop an all-star game. Now he needs to use those same powers to right a grievous wrong that can have economic fallout for Galarraga. No doubt the pitcher will receive publicity and some reward for his performance. But it no doubt will be less than he’d have received from having pitched a perfect game.

Even with two other perfect games this season, perfection on the diamond is rarely observed. It should not be denied because another person, an umpire in plain sight of millions, maybe even billions watching video replays, was less than perfect (here’s a link if you haven’t seen it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/02/armando-galarraga-perfect_n_598626.html).

Justice and fair play demand swift and immediate action by Selig, if for no other reason than 20 years from now it will make a fun trivia question—who was the only pitcher to record 28 outs in a perfect game? Or, alternatively, who made the 28th out in a perfect game? Either way, it's a perfect question.

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