Ump Blows Call, Ruins Galarraga's Perfect Game

Guest

Drew Sharp, sports writer, Detroit Free Press

Baseball fans saw the most famous imperfect game in history Wednesday night. Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was closing in on a perfect game. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled the final batter safe at first. After the game, even Joyce admitted that he blew the call — and the perfect game.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

In Detroit last night, pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game in the bottom of the ninth: 26 up, 26 down, one out to go.

Mr. DAN DICKERSON (Announcer, Detroit Tigers): Right-handed batter against the righty. The 1-1 pitch, swing, and a ground ball, right side. Backhanded by Cabrera. He's going to turn, throw to first, and they didn't get him. Oh, man.

Mr. JIM PRICE (Announcer, Detroit Tigers): Are you kidding me?

CONAN: Umpire Jim Joyce said he was certain that the runner was safe until he looked at a replay. Out. Out by plenty. The Tigers still won the game. Armando Galarraga gets credit for a one-hit shutout, but the bad call denied him membership in a very exclusive club. In all the tens of thousands of baseball games ever played in the major leagues, only 20 men have ever thrown a perfect game.

So you're the commissioner of baseball. Do you reverse the umpire's call and declare an ex post facto perfecto? Do you say, everybody's human, life's not fair, what happened happened. Do you reconsider the use of video replay? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from the studios of WDFN in Detroit is Drew Sharp. He's a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press. And nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. DREW SHARP (Sportswriter, Detroit Free Press): Neal, glad to be here.

CONAN: And we should point out, both of the principals here, pitcher Galarraga and umpire Joyce, were on the field at Comerica Park again today when the Tigers hosted the Indians in a day game.

Mr. SHARP: Yeah, Armando delivered the opening lineup before the game. And, you know, they introduce the umpires. And it was a nice gesture on his part. They shook hands. And Joyce, once again, apologized. You could tell he was - Joyce was very emotional when meeting Armando before the game this afternoon. And, you know, the crowd was - reaction was expected. He got some boos, which are...

CONAN: Sure. Yeah.

Mr. SHARP: You think that that's going to happen. But from what I understand, there were no real boisterous demonstrations from the crowd, which is good.

CONAN: And the best thing about this is it seems that this is one of those situations that is, well, there's a possibility that it might have been tainted by tantrum. And everybody in this case seemed to behave with a lot of class.

Mr. SHARP: And that's the biggest thing that came out of this, Neal. I mean, people are talking today about, well, this is an example how baseball needs instant replay because the key thing, you have to get it right if the technology is there. But I think what came out of this, you didn't get a perfect game but you got a perfect example of what true sportsmanship should be. You saw integrity exhibited at its highest level by these principals (unintelligible).

Jim Joyce - this is what an umpire should be, a referee - he made a mistake. He acknowledged it. He admitted it. He repeatedly apologized for it. And if you saw the look on his face last night and heard the trembling in his voice, this was a man who was emotionally devastated over a bad call because he cares that much about doing his job properly. I think that's what we want out of umpires in baseball, in referees out of football.

And Galarraga was the ultimate in class. Even after the play was made, Neal, he never once either looked at Joyce, you know, wrongly or confronted him. He just smiled. He walked away and smiled. Isn't this what we expect out of athletes? This type - I think it's a perfect example of what true sportsmanship should be.

CONAN: I think it's what we expect out of adults also.

Mr. SHARP: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: Sometimes, they don't - that behavior is not exhibited so much on the field.

There's - here's a - we have a clip of an interview that NPR's Melissa Block did with umpire Jim Joyce back in 1998. Of course, he's been in the league a very long time.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. JIM JOYCE (Umpire, Major League Baseball): If we make a really great call, you never hear about it. But if we miss a call, everybody knows it. Everybody knows it. So the fun part of it is knowing that I'm right 96 percent of the time, maybe even higher. The thing about it is, is that they expect 100 percent, and I know I can't do it. It's impossible.

CONAN: And it's impossible, as we saw last night. He was not - he had no interest in this call one way or the other. I'm sure he would have liked to have been there to ump a perfect game, but, well, he had to call them like he saw them.

Mr. SHARP: And that's where the integrity comes in, Neal, in that you - the umpire realizes how, you know, if one more out, then it's a historic evening. It's a historic achievement. But you have to be true to the integrity of the game. If he honestly believed that the runner beat out the throw, it doesn't matter how close it may have been or, you know, a lot of people, myself included, last night were saying, when a situation like that, tie should go...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHARP: ...to the pitcher pitching the perfect game. Well, no, the integrity of the game is always first and foremost. That's the first and foremost rule. If he believed...

CONAN: Call the 27th out the same way you called the first one.

Mr. SHARP: Exactly. If he believed the guy was safe, then make the call. He believed it - when he realized, watching the replay, it was the wrong call, he was devastated about it.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Steve(ph) in Altamonte Springs in Florida. Armando Galarraga should not be (unintelligible) of being part of baseball history just because of an umpire's mistake. We can argue, debate the rules all day. All it really takes is a mutual agreement between the two managers, the umpire and Bud Selig, he's the commissioner of baseball, that Jason Donald, that was the batter, was out. The next batters at bat will be erased from the score book, the game declared over, Bud Selig can sign off on the agreement. Everybody is happy. The Tigers won anyway, the Indians lost, so what's the harm? This is an historic season with two perfect games already recorded. And who knows what else will happen in the last two-thirds of the season?

Mr. SHARP: Yeah, but the problem is, though, if Selig were to reverse this call, it embarks baseball on a slippery slope because then - what happens then if a bad call actually affects a game? Now, whether or not he made the right call or not, the Tigers were winning that game. They're up 3-0.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHARP: All that call did was a set at individual achievement. It had no bearing on a win or a loss. And that should be the most important standard here. If you're going to reverse a call, it should be based on whether or not that bad call resulted in a team winning or losing. If Selig reverses this call in favor of giving Galarraga the perfect game, then what happens in another week? You know, there's another bad officials call that actually costs a team a game?

Do they go to Selig then, well, you have to reverse that because replay showed that they made the wrong call? At what point - you have to draw a line somewhere. And that line should be, we accept in sports that you're going to have human error. That's just part of it. That's part of it.

CONAN: And here's the line pointed out to us by Joe(ph) in an email from St. Louis. If Galarraga gets awarded a perfect game, the Cardinals should get the '85 series. And he's, of course, referring to another famous blown call, Don Denkinger back in 1985.

Mr. SHARP: The Denkinger call.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. SHARP: Well, see, the difference was that was, what, in game five? I mean...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHARP: It played a pivotal role but there were other - other things had to fall into place for the Cardinals to lose that series. What makes last night's call unique is that that was the last call. That was the 27th out in a perfect game where you face a minimum of 27 batters. That's what makes that call so unique compared to some of the other umpire mistakes that are strewn throughout baseball history.

CONAN: Now, let's go to Joe(ph). Joe is on the line from Cincinnati. Joe, are you there?

JOE (Caller): I like the show. It's great.

CONAN: Oh, thank you.

JOE: Coming from Cincinnati, you know, I understand the whole routine of having a professional team and what it means to the city and, you know, (unintelligible) wanting to have it all done through baseball and all that. It just - it's a game, man. And like he said earlier, your guest, you know, once it gets to a point, where do you stop? You know, Barry Bonds is going to (unintelligible) having the most home runs but he cheats.

CONAN: So the - well, that's a Hall of Fame decision, too, and that's the baseball writers and that's...

JOE: Yeah, yeah.

CONAN: ...this is an argument that's going to go on for a long, long time.

JOE: I mean, it's just a game. You know, there's nobody going to die over this. There's, you know, nothing bad is going to really come of it except it's going to be one little blight on the guy's record.

CONAN: Well, in an odd way - thanks very much for the call, Joe, and I'm sure a lot of people feel that same way. But in a way, isn't this game now more famous than...

Mr. SHARP: Absolutely.

CONAN: Even the Roy Halladay perfect game that was - immediately preceded it.

Mr. SHARP: Neal, you're absolutely correct. Usually, if you get a perfect game, people are talking about you for maybe 24 or 48 hours.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. People are going to talk about this forever.

Mr. SHARP: Exactly. Armando Galarraga, and we talked with him about this this afternoon at Comerica Park, in that he is actually couldn't be a bigger hero in people's minds in an imperfect game like this because he handled himself so perfectly afterwards, that people are going to look at the name Armando Galarraga from this point on and say, you know what, this is an example of how a professional should behave. And like you said before, this is how adults should behave.

You know, sometimes you don't get what you want even though you're pretty confident you earned it. But you know what, you still have to show some degree of integrity and class. And Armando Galarraga exhibited that in such a high way that I do think he'll be remembered more and better because of the way he responded in not getting the perfect game, instead if he had gotten the perfect game.

CONAN: We have a clip of tape from an interview he did with ESPN last night which is illustrative.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. ARMANDO GALARRAGA: He feels really bad. And I know anybody's perfect and I understand. I mean, it's - I mean, I can't say anything to him. He talked to me and say, I don't know how to say to you, I'm really sorry. And he feel really bad and his body language, he no say too much. His body language, they know he, you know, he feel really bad and he, like, hey, I'm so sorry, I don't know what to say. And I say, you know, I give you a couple hug and I say, you know, nobody's perfect.

CONAN: A hug. Isn't that a nice solution?

Mr. SHARP: They hugged it out, Neal. They hugged it out.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have from Rob Friedman(ph). The scorekeeper I assume he means the official scorer - should call the play an error and give him at least the no-hitter. Lots of people have had blown calls ruin big games and big plays. Well, I guess that calls for integrity on the official scorer's part, too.

Mr. SHARP: Exactly. Exactly. Official scorer was approached. He - we talked to him last night after the game and he said that he was pretty confident that Galarraga had the ball in his glove. It wasn't bobbled or anything. He had the ball in his glove. So if the official scorer were to make a change like that say, we're going to call an error to make people happy, then what's learned from that? Again, there's nothing wrong with, you know, you had a tremendous performance and you know you did the best that you could, but a mistake happened that cost you a certain, you know, certain level of achievement that you think you deserve.

But you know what, a person is going to be measured by his character in times of adversity. And if this is the worst thing that's going to happen to Armando Galarraga in his life, you know, the - he considers himself - he should consider himself a very fortunate young man. He has handled himself so extraordinarily well that that is what people are going to come out of this, this is what people are going to remember. You know, he could've been the 21st pitcher to pitch a perfect game in Major League Baseball, but in a lot of people's minds he's going to be the number one guy in their minds when they think of this is how a classy athlete should conduct himself.

CONAN: We're talking with Drew Sharp, a sportswriter for The Detroit Free Press. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to Philippe(ph), Philippe with us from Boston.

PHILIPPE (Caller): Yes, good afternoon. First of all, I agree with the sentiments that Galarraga is absolutely a class act. I'll challenge who - the couple of callers prior who was saying this is a game - absolutely not. This is a business. The fact that Galarraga was actually - had the opportunity to be that 21st person, to your point earlier of the thousands of games that happened, that's just a shame.

The fact that Joyce also called out his mistake, I think, was an absolutely class act. Shame on Bud Selig - absolutely no class whatsoever, historically, in terms of all the other issues that have gone on in MLB. The fact of the matter is they should absolutely reverse this. The out that came afterwards showed that there wouldve been no effect to the game. And the reality is this doesn't occur in other sports.

For example, look in pro football. The game is actually a better game when you have the referees are being called out on their - through instant replay, when the coaches can challenges it. It creates that balance act, the fairness that should be there that simply isn't right now in baseball because of all - its historical legacy.

CONAN: We'll address the replay issue in just a minute, Philippe, but I did want to point out that there's a scenario that some people have pointed out today, say that's a one-nothing game and the umpire blows the call and there's a man on first, and the next guy up hits a home run, and the Indians win the game. You reverse it then?

PHILIPPE: Agreed. But - especially in this context, this proves...

CONAN: So you do it sometimes...

PHILIPPE: ...that, first of all, we need instant replay. But the fact of the matter is...

CONAN: But not others?

PHILIPPE: ...that the event was ultimately innocuous in terms of the fact that it will have zero impact on the rest of the game for Bud Selig to reverse this.

CONAN: Well, he has not made a decision yet. Apparently, he's considering all of this. We await whatever decision that may be. What do you have to say, though, Drew Sharp, on the instant replay question? Baseball does allow it to decide whether it's a home run or not?

Mr. SHARP: I'm not a fan of instant replay in any sport. I think it slows the game down. I think it almost makes excuses for umpires and officials for their mistakes. I don't think it's made football better. I don't think it's made the officiating better, having instant replay, because even instant replay, you look at a replay and go, wait a minute, I think there's pretty clear evidence that this play should be overturned...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHARP: ...but it's not overturned. So there's no perfect solution. And there comes a point when we have to accept the fact that sports in this country - one reason why we love it is the human element, the human drama. And you have a situation like last night where you had, you know, a great athletic achievement collided with colossal human failure. That's what made a dramatic moment.

CONAN: Seemed to me we spent about 40 minutes last time looking at that replay in a hockey game to see whether that was a goal or not.

Mr. SHARP: For the goal, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Big Nerd(ph) sends us a tweet: Umpires and bad calls are part of the game. Replays would kill baseball.

Let's go next to Steve(ph), and Steve with us from West Haven, Connecticut.

STEVE (Caller): Yes, hello. I have a suggestion I haven't heard yet, although my - the screener said someone else has the identical idea. We've seen a lot of things in baseball go into the record books with an asterisk and has a very unfortunate meaning. Something that is this clear, where everyone involved agrees, yes, it was a perfect game, why shouldn't this go in with - go in the record books with something like a double asterisk or some other symbol that -where that single asterisk denotes it's something bad like drug abuse happened? Well, this could be something that was phenomenal to happen, but...

CONAN: I understand...

STEVE: ...for whatever circumstances, you know?

CONAN: I understand your point. The asterisk is a myth. Roger Maris' record never went in to the record book with an asterisk. There was a 162-game record and 154-game record for a little while, but no asterisks in the record book. But this might be an exception, Drew Sharp?

Mr. SHARP: No. Again, if I'm Armando Galarraga, I wouldn't want someone to tell me two days later, okay, that's a perfect game because that moment - you've lost moment. Are they going to allow the Tigers and his teammates to go back on the field and recreate...

CONAN: And celebrate?

Mr. SHARP: ...and celebrate? They're not going to allow that. That moment is gone. You're never going to be able to bring that back. If you reverse it and give him the perfect game - I think he's comfortable in his heart that he pitched a perfect game. He's at peace with that. And that's - if he's happy with that then the rest of us should be happy with it. And I think we should applaud the conduct of the player and the umpire involved in here more so than lament what might be wrong with baseball not having replay. I - that's - I'm boggled by that by - this is basically the national reaction. This is an example of something that needs to be fixed.

Well, there's something that we saw last night that was pretty beautiful, it was pretty amazing. As high level as competition can be, how professional these guys conducted themselves in something that I don't think should be overstated.

CONAN: And those two names, Jim Joyce and Mr. Galarraga, will be connected forever through the history of baseball...

Mr. SHARP: Absolutely.

CONAN: ...like Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.

Mr. SHARP: Ralph Branca.

CONAN: Absolutely. Steve, thanks very much for the call. And let's thank Drew Sharp for his time today. And I think you have time to catch for the last couple of innings.

Mr. SHARP: Sounds good. All right, Neal.

CONAN: Drew Sharp, sportswriter for The Detroit Free Press, joined us today from the studios of WDFN in Detroit. I'm Neal Conan, National Public Radio in Washington.

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