Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Perfection Of Imperfection

  • The memory remains:

Reactionary explosions are laying waste to the reputation of a good umpire; diminishing a masterful performance by a journeyman pitcher; inspiring absurd threats by faceless and gutless buffoons who know nothing of baseball and less about humanity; and one mistake is serving to again tear apart the fabric of an institution in the name of blatant self-righteousness.

A perfect game was made imperfect last night in Detroit.

Let's take a look at the confluence of circumstance; the collision of fate; and the aftermath.

History blows up from the outside...and makes more history.

Off the top of your head and without thinking about it too deeply, can you name the pitchers in Major League history who've authored perfect games?


Here are the ones I remember immediately: David Cone; David Wells; Roy Halladay; Mark Buehrle; Dallas Braden; Kenny Rogers; Len Barker; Jim Bunning; Don's it.

Those are the pitchers that immediately come to mind when remembering perfection.

Now, do you remember the pitchers who've come within one out of perfection, only to lose it in one way or another?

Mike Mussina came within one out of perfection vs the Red Sox. That's the one that comes to mind immediately.

And that's it.

The complete list of pitchers who've thrown perfect games can be found here----Perfect Games in MLB history.

Now, do you remember Harvey Haddix?

On May 26th, 1959 Harvey Haddix pitched a game which has been referred to as the greatest masterpiece in baseball history with 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves.

36 batters came up; 36 batters went down against a lineup that included the Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews; along with a pretty impressive power hitter, Joe Adcock.

Harvey Haddix, a journeyman lefty who'd been serviceable, but never more than that, was perfect for 12 innings. The perfection was undone by the Pirates inability to score; by an error in the bottom of the 13th; and was made even more memorable as Adcock homered to win the game, but passed Aaron on the basepaths, nullifying the homer; what should've been a 3-run walk-off win became a 1-0 win for the Braves; Adcock lost his homer and Haddix lost his moment in history.

Or did he?

Will anyone be talking about the Mussina game in 60 years?

The Halladay, Braden, Barker, whoever game?


Those games will be part of the tapestry that creates what baseball is, but not a story unto itself.

They will be talking about Armando Galarraga.

The Galarraga Imperfect Game will be the story.

It will never be forgotten.

Blaming the umpire?

There are so many umpires who have no clue what they're doing that----to paraphrase Whitey Herzog----it's lucky they have only two guesses much of the time.

Jim Joyce, a veteran umpire respected by players, coaches and managers alike, is not of their number. He's not combative; he's mostly invisible as a good umpire should be; and he's not drunk with power lording his authority over the 20-something multi-millionaires with whom he deals on a daily basis.

He's a human being who made a call that many others would not have had the courage to make. On a bang-bang play, the easiest thing in the world for Joyce would've been to call hitter Jason Donald out and recede into the shadows as the Tigers amassed in a joyous pile over Galarraga.

He didn't.

He mistakenly saw Donald as safe and he made the call he felt was right.

In what is an unheard of breaking of the baseball version of the "blue wall of silence", Joyce spoke to the media; apologized to Galarraga; is having his career and reputation by one mistake.

The game is so fast that to sit in a chair with a beer in hand and the remote in the other and rip every missed call is irresponsible silliness. Calling out an umpire for one gaffe and ignoring the 1000 calls they get correct is madness. Plays and judgment decisions take a millisecond to happen and are hit or miss especially as they're using the faultiness of eyesight.

Had this been a 1-hit shutout rather than a perfect game, it would've been discussed and disregarded as part of the game.

But it won't be; and neither will Jim Joyce.

And it's wrong.

The call for more replay is lunacy.

How's this supposed to work?

How many times can an umpire go traipsing into the umpire's room to check on a close call?

Games are too long as it is, so are there going to be three or four more delays to add another 45 minutes (at least) to each and every game? There are blown calls in every game; they're not as prominent as Joyce's mistake, but they happen. So, what now?

Let's just say, hypothetically, that instant replay on close base calls was in effect during last night's Tigers-Indians game. What's the protocol going to be not just for the review, but for the reaction?

Was Galarraga going to be standing by first base with his arms halfway between raised in triumph or at his sides in despondency? Were the Tigers going to be loitering around the baseline waiting for the umpires to emerge from their cave and make a call one way or the other? Were the fans going to be staring at the field with their mouths half-open scrambling for their lost ticket stubs in case the call went their way and perfection was established on the replay?

The spontaneity of the celebration would've looked contrived and ridiculous like the closing credits of the farcical TV series/movies Police Squad starring Leslie Nielson in which they froze at the conclusion of each episode in mid-laugh, holding coffee cups while the mailperson wandered aimlessly by dropping deliveries on their desks.

I don't want more instant replay. The home run calls are enough. Perhaps, in the playoffs there should be expanded replay; but apart from that, the human element is what makes baseball what it is and to sabotage that is another step on its pathway to ruin.

Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga, together forever.

Because it was such a horrifically blown call; because of Austin Jackson's circus catch to start the ninth inning; because umpire Jim Joyce was so devastated by his mistake, openly apologized to Galarraga and will be remembered for this more than the good work he's done as a big league umpire; because of the renewed calls for instant replay, no one is going to forget this game.


Can you say the same on any level about the other perfect games that have been pitched? Aside from the one Larsen pitched in the World Series----ably assisted by Yogi Berra's leap into Larsen's arms----do you have a deep-rooted attachment to any of the others in the same way that Galarraga's game has touched a nerve?

Armando Galarraga of the Tigers had perfection snatched from his grasp by umpire Jim Joyce's egregious missed call, but just like everything else, it evolves into what we make it.

Roberto Alomar spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck sparked a friendship and mutual charity work that has crafted an exponential amount of good from a terrible incident.

Jose Canseco's self-serving book has cleaned up baseball from the era of performance enhancing drugs.

The same can and probably will happen with Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga----linked by fate; attached by a mistake; and together forever.

  • Throw it against the wall and hope it sticks:

In this piece on MLB Fan House, Ed Price drops the following nugget without context or explanation:

An official from another team said word going around is that Roy Oswalt would approve a trade only to the Phillies, Yankees or Cardinals.

Okay. So, Oswalt wouldn't agree to go to the Rangers? The Braves? The Dodgers? The Angels?

This one sentence is absolute garbage not because it's, well, absolute garbage, but because Oswalt's options are so limited, he can just about forget dictating where he'll go if he truly wants to be traded by the Astros.

Unlike the Stone Cold Killer, Cliff Lee, Oswalt is not a rental. After this season, he's guaranteed $18 million. Any team that trades for Oswalt will have Oswalt for at least 2011 and can exercise his contract option for 2012.

The Yankees don't have the desperate need for another starter that they'll take on that salary and ante up the prospects to get Oswalt; that the Phillies won't trade for him because they won't tacitly admit the mistake they made in trading Lee by going out and getting Oswalt (and don't have the money for him anyway); and the Cardinals can't afford to trade for him since they have to gather every single penny they have to keep Albert Pujols after next year.

This is the dumbest and most nonsensical thing I've ever heard.

Today at least. But it's early. And this is baseball.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz last Thursday. Listen here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other.

I'm not a monster.

I'm just ahead of the curve.


Jeff said...

Excellent piece. Nothing more to say than that.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Baseball giveth; Baseball taketh away. We know Baseball can be cruel sometimes. But baseball always gives you another chance.