A Perfect Game, Ruined By A Bad Call

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One magical moment on the diamond Wednesday night, ruined by a bad, bad call: Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was on the verge of pitching a perfect game — two outs in the ninth — when umpire Jim Joyce called a batter "safe" on first base. The problem? He wasn't. The fans saw it. The announcers saw it. Everybody watching on television saw it, and saw it again on the instant replay. Joyce apologized afterward, and Galaraga graciously accepted. And Thursday, everybody was once again wondering why Major League Baseball doesn't rely on instant replays. For some insight, Robert Siegel talks to Don Denkinger, a retired umpire who himself made a famously bad call.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Last night at Detroit's Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by an umpire's bad call and by Major League Baseball's wariness of instant replay.

(Soundbite of ball game)

Unidentified Man: Ground ball, right side, Cabrera will cut it off. Galarraga coasts(ph). He's out. No, he's safe. He is safe.

SIEGEL: There were two out in the ninth and umpire Jim Joyce called a Cleveland Indian runner safe at first base, even though the video replay clearly showed he was out and that Galarraga had earned a place in baseball history. Everyone could see it: the fans, the announcers.

(Soundbite of ball game)

Unidentified Man: Oh, my goodness. Jim Joyce, no.

SIEGEL: In the locker room, both Joyce and Galarraga displayed graciousness uncommon for professional sports or for many professions. The umpire apologized to the pitcher and told reporters, I just missed the call. I missed it. There's nobody that feels worse than I do. I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say. And Galarraga told an interviewer he really feels bad. Nobody's perfect. I understand.

Well, joining us now is someone who knows just how less than perfect Jim Joyce feels today. In the 1985 World Series, first base umpire Don Denkinger made a similar bad call that helped Kansas City win game six and they went on to beat St. Louis in the deciding game seven, as well. Mr. Denkinger, seeing Jim Joyce's call and recalling your own, what did you think?

Mr. DON DENKINGER (Umpire): Well, it's just a really terrible sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see something like that happen. And it happened to me and I know the feeling and I know what Jim was going through. And it's so frustrating. And knowing him and knowing how conscientious he is about everything he does and how he works and how much effort he puts into it, this is going to hurt him a little bit. But I do believe he'll get over it.

SIEGEL: Now - nowadays you go to a ball game and there is a huge TV screen in the ballpark showing replays of the action that just took place. On television we saw three different angles of this play within a minute or two after it happened. Why shouldn't a baseball umpire be able to say, consult an official up in the booth or someone to consider reversing his call?

Mr. DENKINGER: Well, I think they should be able to do that. And I think they need to expand their replay. And they've stuck to their guns and they've just, you know, kind of introduced it a little bit for boundary calls, homeruns and balls that clear the line in the outfield and whether they're fair or foul down the lines. And it's time that they expanded a little farther than that.

SIEGEL: Can you ever recall a moment when an umpire got, say, a close play at first base wrong and after hearing something from someone in the subsequent minute said, okay, I reverse the call?

Mr. DENKINGER: No, never.

SIEGEL: Never, never.

Mr. DENKINGER: Never.

SIEGEL: So, here you are, you're an umpire. I guess you want us to be aware that you're out there on the field being a major league umpire, but you don't want this kind of notoriety when you're doing your job.

Mr. DENKINGER: Nope, you sure don't. The only time that I'm talking to anybody now is with the reporters or announcers in baseball is when something like this happens. And they, you know, they're looking for an answer that just isn't etched in stone. And as long as the commissioner is there, I guess maybe we won't have instant replay. But this may be a wakeup call and let's hope that he takes the bull by the horn and changes some of it.

SIEGEL: How long did it take you to say you're sorry about the '85 call in the World Series?

Mr. DENKINGER: I don't know if I ever told anybody I was sorry.

SIEGEL: Are you?

Mr. DENKINGER: I said that I missed the call. And, you know, but I was out there doing the very best job I could. And the chips fell where they did. And that was kind of the way it came down. And I've been to St. Louis a few times and Ive never apologized to Whitey Herzog. I think he knows that I feel badly about the situation. But I don't think I had to say I'm sorry. I don't think that I was the sole reason they lost the World Series that year.

SIEGEL: Well, they had...

Mr. DENKINGER: I don't think as a team they hit much more than .122.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DENKINGER: You know, if they were hitting .260 or .270, they had a much better chance of winning.

SIEGEL: They did contribute to their own loss, for sure.

Mr. DENKINGER: Yes, they did. Sure they did.

SIEGEL: Well, Don Denkinger, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. DENKINGER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And about both 1985, your World Series, and also what happened last night in Detroit. Thanks so much.

Mr. DENKINGER: You bet.

SIEGEL: Retired major league umpire Don Denkinger on the perfect game that wasn't.

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