Thursday June 3rd, 2010

Jim Joyce's perfectly blown call Wednesday night was not an opportunity for commissioner Bud Selig to misuse the powers of his office to change what happened on the field. It was an opening to celebrate what happened after the call that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga the immortality of a perfect game.

Joyce and Galarraga, otherwise largely unknown until fate conspired to bring them together for the 27th out that wasn't, made the evening a beautiful one for baseball. How they responded to the blown call, and not the call itself, became what is most important. Their grace and honesty are what lasts. And so baseball, and Selig himself, can stand tall. Being perfect is not more important than being human.

To that extent, Selig "reviewed" the call, not because there was a need to step in and change what happened on the field just to do the "popular" thing, but because he has a responsibility as the game's leader to review any event of such a high profile. He issued a statement Thursday afternoon shortly before an announcement was made that Joyce's call would stand. Pretending Jason Donald was out and Trevor Crowe never batted? That was never going to happen. It might have gained Selig some fans because it would have played to our empathy for what was taken away from Galarraga, but it mad no sense in the administration of the game.

Why stop there? There was a worse call in Seattle last night in terms of championship season importance. The call by umpire Dale Scott at second base on a force play allowed the winning run to score for the Mariners. It was a call that decided the outcome. Why shouldn't Selig step in and overturn that one?

That's why people such as Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa were wrong to suggest Selig should have intervened and changed history. Is such power reserved only for warm and fuzzy moments? What Selig needed to do is review the incident not for how it affects the past but what it means for the future. Specifically, he now needs to intensify the discussions about expanding the use of instant replay in baseball.

In the meantime, the focus ought to be on how Galarraga and Joyce handled the event, not about fudging on-field results. Galarraga earned himself a unique place in sporting history with that wry smile of his immediately after he turned and saw Joyce make his safe call. There was no protest. No complaint. There was acceptance that a call had not gone his way, and the resolve to climb back up the mound and go get the 27th out for a second time.

It was a beautiful, lasting picture of sportsmanship. Twenty pitchers have thrown a perfect game. But Galarraga is the only one to have one taken away from him and accept it with such grace. He was elevated to an even higher regard than if Joyce had made the proper call.

For his part, Joyce showed the courage to immediately take ownership of his mistake. There were no prepared statements. No excuses. No cousin Yuris to blame. Teary-eyed, still dressed in his umpire gear, he apologized personally to Galarraga. He invited reporters in to his dressing quarters and admitted he had just blown the biggest call of his career.

It was a night on which Galarraga and Joyce made baseball proud, when the game was never more human and never more right, and it took one man to be so obviously wrong. Baseball was fortunate to have both men be the ones to meet at first base in the eye of this storm. Also last night, for instance, umpire Angel Hernandez took a run off the board for Tampa Bay by ruling that Sean Rodriguez had missed third base. Replays showed that Hernandez was wrong. But after the game, he chose not to answer questions or to apologize but to issue a statement to a pool reporter. It said tersely, "I have no comment. The guy missed the bag."

Imagine if Hernandez had made the call in Detroit, or Cowboy Joe West, or a renowned short-tempered pitcher such as Carlos Zambrano had lost a perfect game to an umpire's call.

And so Selig was right to not bother with abusing his power to undo what happened. He should be proud of the grace of Galarraga and the humility of Joyce. It wasn't baseball history, not in the sense of a 21st perfect game. It was more important than that.

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