Published May 15, 2020
Before the advent of video replay, organized team sports at the college and professional levels were harder to fight than city hall, when it came to rulings on the field of play. The game official’s word was final—no matter how contrary the evidence.
As former big league umpire Dave Pallone once told me, “I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong.”
Blown calls have been a part of sports lore since the beginning of time, because the games have always been officiated by, you know, human beings.
Video replay—when done correctly—has assuaged some of that malfeasance and metered out instant justice in the heat of battle.
The NFL was light years ahead of the other pro sports, instituting replay in the late-1980s. It took the other leagues a little while to come to their senses.
And MLB was slow on the uptake—too late to save Armando Galarraga.
The story of Galarraga is emblazoned on the hearts of Tigers fans the world over, and is also a significant, albeit infamous part of baseball’s 21st century history.
The Imperfect Perfect Game. Or, the Perfect Imperfect Game. Your choice.
It happened almost 10 years ago, if you can believe it.
On June 2, 2010 at Comerica Park, the Tigers’ Galarraga silenced the Cleveland Indians, 26 consecutive batters’ worth. He was within one measly out from perfection.
One of the things that I find so fascinating about baseball, more so than the other major sports, is how the game can suddenly thrust the no-name into the spotlight. Players whose careers, in their totality, were nothing to write home about, can somehow elevate themselves, whether in one shining moment or during a small sample size of competition, to the level of legend.
Bucky Dent. Dusty Rhodes. Brian Doyle. Gene Tenace. And so on.
The list of pitchers in MLB who’ve tossed no-hitters and perfect games are not dominated by Hall of Famers. But for nine innings on any given day, they were lights out, even if their careers were mostly nondescript.
Even under those circumstances, Galarraga was about the most unlikely man to hogtie any big league team to the point of perfection. But that’s exactly what he did to the Tribe on June 2, 2010.
Until that 27th man, Jason Donald (who’d only been in the big leagues for two weeks), stepped to the plate and first base umpire Jim Joyce, as I wrote the day after, picked the worst time to be human.
Joyce blew the call. Everyone knew it as soon as they saw it on video. Some knew it as soon as it happened, without the benefit of replay. Donald was out by at least half a step after 1B Miguel Cabrera tossed the ball to Galarraga covering first base.
Galarraga’s almost grotesque grin of disbelief and shock, after Joyce’s safe call, was beamed to TV audiences in Detroit. That’s when we knew that something might be amiss. When we saw the replay, we got sick to our collective stomachs.
In the immediate aftermath, Galarraga and Joyce each handled themselves with class and dignity. Joyce, for his part, openly admitted his blunder and how awful it made him feel. “I kicked the **** out of that call and I took a perfect game away from that kid.” Galarraga refused to heap blame on Joyce—mainly because he didn’t need to; the evidence was overwhelming. Still, the pitcher didn’t whine about it.
Now, some 10 years later, it seems as though Galarraga is having second thoughts about his exclusion from the official list of (at the time) 21 perfect games tossed in modern baseball history.
Galarraga was quoted in The Athletic this week. “I was like, what can I do to have a better finish to the story? How can Major League Baseball give me the perfect game? Because it was perfect, right?
“Why not? Why wait for so long? I don’t want to die, and then they’ll be like, ‘You know what, he threw a perfect game.’”
Now, we all know that Galarraga threw a perfect game. No one could possibly look at the video and come up with any other conclusion. Even by baseball’s “bang-bang play” standards, this one was a slam dunk call. Or should have been.
Galarraga wants MLB to rewrite history. He wants the call officially overturned and claim his rightful place on the list of perfect game throwers.
Normally I’m not a fan of such things. But you know what? Give it to the kid.
Even Joyce, when reached for comment, agrees, “Because he did it.”
I don’t want to hear from Cardinals fans, who will yip at me about Don Denkinger and his infamous blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, which incorrectly kept the Royals’ hopes alive (KC won the series the next night). It’s one thing to correct a call to reward an individual accomplishment in a meaningless regular season game in June. It’s quite another to revise World Series history. The former precedent is far less fraught with danger than the latter.
By now, the official awarding of a perfect game to Galarraga is more for him than for the fans, though some Tigers faithful are still far from over it—their vile toward Joyce not having lost any of its bite, even 10 years later.
I understand why MLB may be reluctant to act on Galarraga’s overture. The whole precedent thing. It’s just not something that any pro league does.
But how many times does something like the Galarraga game occur? Has anything like it ever happened? The circumstances are unique, to say the least. If MLB is afraid of something similar happening in the future, I think their fears are mostly unfounded—especially with video replay firmly in place.
Give Galarraga his perfecto. In a world where the opportunity to right a wrong without harming anyone comes along so infrequently, MLB should seize the day.