If anyone in baseball history can appreciate what Armando Galarraga is going through, it's Milt Pappas.
On Wednesday night, Galarraga, the Tigers pitcher, was one out away from a perfect game and the accompanying baseball immortality when first-base umpire Jim Joyce erroneously ruled that the Indians' Jason Donald was safe at first after a throw from first baseman Miguel Cabrera to Galarraga, who was covering the bag. After seeing the replay himself, Joyce publicly admitted he was wrong and apologized to Galarraga.
In 1972 Pappas, then with the Cubs, was also one out away when he lost his bid for a perfect game. He had a 1-and-2 count on the Padres' Larry Stahl and then threw three straight pitches that were close to the strike zone; home-plate umpire Bruce Froemming called each one a ball, ending the perfect game with a walk, though Pappas did eventually complete the no-hitter.
Early Thursday afternoon SI.com spoke to Pappas in a phone interview from his Illinois home, in which he sympathized with Galarraga, called for commissioner Bud Selig to overturn Joyce's blown call and continued to criticize Froemming, who was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. [Editor's note: Later Thursday afternoon, major league baseball announced it would not overturn Joyce's decision.]
SI: What is your reaction to the blown call that cost Galarraga a perfect game?
MP: I feel terrible for Galarraga, for the fact that not only he lost a perfect game, but he lost a no-hitter. He lost both of them in one bad call by the umpire. At least the umpire had the guts to say he blew it after he saw the replay, but that doesn't help the pitcher out at all. I hope the commissioner's office has the guts to reverse it.
SI: So you'd be in favor of Bud Selig overturning the call?
MP: Most definitely in that situation. I don't think instant replay belongs in baseball with balls and strikes, unless it's a perfect game. In that instance it should be utilized. Maybe if he reverses this one, he'll reverse mine.
SI: Are you in favor of more instant replay being used in baseball?
MP: The fact that they're using it for the home run situation is good. That's the right idea that they're doing that. It takes all the guesswork out for the umpire. As far as balls and strikes, that's still so much a part of baseball, but in a situation with a perfect game and only with the last [batter] coming up.
SI: Is there anything you can say to Galarraga that would make him feel better?
MP: I don't know if there's anything that will make him feel better. At least the umpire said he blew it, where in my case Froemming never said that. That's unbelievable. There's not a whole heck of a lot you can say. I've got a feeling -- and, of course, I don't know the young man -- but I get the feeling that as the days go by he's going to get madder and madder because he didn't even end up with a no-hitter. At least I ended up with a no-hitter. He came up with just a one-hit shutout. I think it's a crime. I hope Bud Selig can do something. I guess he's the only one, really, that can do it. And if he does it for [Galarraga], I want to see what he can do about mine.
SI: If Selig were to intervene, what would you recommend for guidelines in these situations?
MP: I just hope something can be done. This young man is going to go through the rest of his life knowing he had a perfect game and the umpire blew it. It's just a crying shame that this thing had to come up. I feel really bad for the young man. It was almost a bang-bang call, and of course umpires don't have the luxury of studying things and waiting minutes before they make a call. They've got to do it right then and there. [Galarraga] is going to through the rest of his life, if it's not overturned, knowing he got screwed out of a perfect game and a no-hitter.
SI: Immediately after your near-perfect game, you were supportive of Froemming's calls [Pappas told the Chicago Tribune that his pitches were "borderline but balls"] but you have since criticized him publicly -- how come?
MP: I just felt that the last three pitches -- because I had one ball and two strikes on the last hitter -- were there on the outside corner, but he called them all balls. If you look at Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series, the last pitch thrown to [Dale] Mitchell went under his chin, for God's sake. The umpire knew what was going on, that there was a perfect game going on, and he called him out. Dale Mitchell never said a word. Yet you've got Bruce Froemming saying years later that he didn't know I had a perfect game. How dumb can that be? The umpire didn't even know what was going on in the course of a ballgame, which was ludicrous. I just don't understand why he called those pitches balls when there was a perfect game on the line. He's a very arrogant man. . . . Mine didn't sink in really until I got home that night, when the phone started ringing and I was watching it on TV and realizing exactly what happened -- that I should have had a perfect game.
SI: Have you spoken with Froemming since that day?
MP: We've had a couple occasions -- I was at a dinner one night and we both spoke. Of course he's never going to change his mind and I'm never going to change my mind. 'Til the day I die, it's always going to be the fact that he blew it. He blew a perfect game, the same way with Jim Joyce last night.
SI: What will this mean for a young pitcher like Galarraga?
MP: It's just a shame that this had to happen. And to see almost three perfect games in a month in one year is mind-boggling. Here we are, what, 127 years or whatever, and we've had 20 of them. Then all of a sudden they're coming out of the woodwork.
SI: Any theories as to why there have been a rash of perfect games and near-perfect games?
MP: No, none whatsoever. It's just like what I said when I was pitching: I'd rather be lucky than good any day of the week.