Joyce happened to be working first base Wednesday night in Detroit for the game between the Tigers and the Indians when infamy did not just tap him on the shoulder, it slapped him upside the head. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had just thrown the 21st perfect game in baseball history, and a ridiculous third perfecto inside of four weeks, when first baseman Miguel Cabrera threw to him covering first base on a grounder by Jason Donald for the 27th out. Cabrera celebrated. Only one thing was missing.
Jim Joyce called Donald safe.
There is no polite way to say this: Joyce blew the call. Galarraga caught the ball in plenty of time, even if it wedged precariously in the webbing of his glove, and scraped the base, even if inelegantly, with his foot. Immortal fame was his.
Jim Joyce took it away. He called Donald safe. No sign that Galarraga juggled the ball. No sign that he missed the base. Just safe. Pure and simple safe.
Umpires miss calls. It happens. Nobody feels worse when an umpire misses a call than the umpire himself. They are proud men who strive for a 100 percent success rate and are bound to be disappointed. Upon seeing a replay, Joyce was crushed.
"I just cost that kid a perfect game," the umpired admitted afterward. "I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."
AUDIO:Listen to Jim Joyce talk about the missed call.
It was a classy move by Joyce, who also apologized to Galarraga personally. The pitcher told a Venezuelan reporter that Joyce was crying when he offered him his apology.
"He really feel bad. He probably feel more bad than me," Galarraga told Fox Sports Detroit. "Nobody's perfect, everybody's human. I understand. I give a lot of credit to the guy saying, 'Hey, I need to talk to you because I really say I'm sorry.' That don't happen. You don't see an umpire after the game say 'I'm sorry.'"
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, after seeing a replay of the call Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, said of about Joyce, "It happened to the best umpire we have in our game. The best. And a perfect gentleman. Obviously, it was a mistake. It was a perfect game. It's a shame for both of them, for the pitcher and for the umpire. But I'm telling you he is the best baseball has, and a great guy. It's just a shame."
Still, a blown call never happened like this: not when the game was over, when history already was written. Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series, Richie Garcia in the 1996 ALCS . . . they played a role in how history unfolded. Not even Bruce Froemming in 1972 -- with Milt Pappas one strike away from a perfect game, he called three straight pitches balls -- took a sledgehammer to history like this.
And though Joyce became the story, Galarraga still achieved his own kind of fame that must never be forgotten. The man threw a perfect game and had it ripped out of his hands -- and yet he responded with grace and professionalism, a wry smile and the remarkable cool to climb right back up on the mound and get the 28th out. Galarraga should be remembered for not what he lost, but for what he gained: a place in posterity as sportsmanship personified.
While angry Tigers swarmed around the umpire after the final out and boos rained down from the Comerica Park fans, Galarraga stayed calm.
"I don't blame them a bit or anything that was said," Joyce said. "I would've said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would've been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me."
The life of Jim Joyce is changed forever, for having had the rotten luck of making the wrong call at the wrong time.
And maybe he changed baseball, too. This may well be the call that birthed expanded instant replay in baseball. Many people who might have been agnostic about expanding the use of replay to get calls right, will be asking this morning, "Tell me again, why don't they use instant replay?" Great question.
Expanded instant replay in baseball always was a matter of when and not if. It was going to take a generation of people who grew up comfortable with technology moving into decision-making positions in major league baseball. Jim Joyce just put that timetable on fast forward.
In the short term, Joyce's blunder brings the state of umpiring to a new low, at least in the public view given the many high profile incidents and controversies this season. The umpires have become the stars baseball never wanted to have, men charged with calling the game becoming the game, a few with the personas of pro wrestlers, the mouths of sailors or the egos of superstars. Cowboy Joe West ripping the pace of play and profanely throwing managers off his field. Balkin' Bob Davidson getting in the face of managers. Angel Hernandez refusing a player's request for time. Jim Joyce drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Welcome to BudSelig's nightmare: his umpires are too well known.