Ken Griffey Jr. retired today. Ken Griffey Jr. One of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of baseball. He's called it a career. And on the day of Ken Griffey Jr.'s retirement, the news has been upstaged.
Not by a perfect game. No, a perfect game couldn't have done it. Not another one. We've already seen two of them in two months, with a no-hitter to boot. Perfect games are old hat.
But a perfect game blown by the umpire with two outs in the ninth? That's big. That's bigger than big. This could be the story of the year.
In a lot of ways, we've been building up to this. Granted, the whole Jeffrey Maier incident happened in 1996, and there were countless incidents before, but the storm of criticism of the umpires online has been developing for a few years, increasing with the introduction of MLB.tv, increasing further with PITCHfx and enhanced Gameday, and reaching a fever pitch in last year's playoffs. More and more people wanted instant replay. Automation. The rallying cry of 'robots' took off and flew ever higher.
Umpires are flawed, goes the argument. Flawed umpires make flawed decisions. Flawed decisions can have a major impact, and with replay technology available, there's no excuse to leave things be. People celebrate the human element, but being correct forever takes precedence. Umpires are in place for a reason, and that reason is to judge the events on the field as accurately as possible. Without accuracy, the game loses its value.
It was only a matter of time, the argument continued, before an umpire made another gaffe. A huge gaffe. A significant, visible gaffe that cost someone or some team something important.
It doesn't get much more visible or important than the last out of a perfect game.
Alas, I don't need to advance the argument any more. A thousand other people already have, and a thousand more still will. Jim Joyce's blown call will fill columns across the country. But while the media and the internet will take this into hyperdrive, one wonders if anything even needs to be said, because the moment kind of speaks for itself. Jim Joyce called safe. The runner was out. With replay, Joyce could've gotten it right. What more is there to say? I don't need to be just another guy using Joyce's call as a launching off point to talk about replay. There will be enough voices that one will scarcely be able to hear anything else above the din.
What's done is done. I don't know if MLB or Bud Selig has recourse to negate the call and retroactively give Armando Galarraga a perfect game, but even if they do, it won't be the same. Galarraga didn't get to celebrate on the field with his teammates and coaches in front of thousands of fans. Galarraga got to shake hands while the crowd booed and his teammates and manager gave Joyce a piece of their mind. A perfect game is all about that moment of bliss, and that's a moment that Galarraga will never get back.
If it's any consolation, though, Galarraga will still earn the recognition. Everyone knows he threw a perfect game. As a matter of fact, he threw a longer perfect game than the standard perfect game, having recorded 28 outs. Galarraga's perfect game was even more impressive than you'd expect. While he may not get to go on the official list, there will be no doubt in anyone's mind that Armando Galarraga threw the 21st perfect game in baseball history, and the third of the season.
I don't know if that makes Galarraga feel any better. I don't know if that makes anyone feel any better. How much of an achievement is the immediate response when it's complete? Are achievements really achievements without a proper celebration? I don't know the answer to that. I hate that I have to ask.
It's just a miserable, unfortunate evening all around, for all parties involved. I do feel bad for Jim Joyce. It's not really his fault he blew the call. He's a human. Humans make mistakes, especially on bang-bang plays. Joyce has already owned up to his mistake, and the true problem lies with the institution by which he's employed. Joyce blew the call, but it's Major League Baseball that didn't provide him with the means to review it.
More than Joyce, though, more than the fans, and more than the players and coaches, I feel bad for Armando Galarraga. Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game, and he got to celebrate an unthinkable achievement by forgiving an umpire who made a bad call.
Sometimes, baseball just isn't fair.