Gammons: Tigers, Joyce show class
Galarraga, Leyland, others react with civility to blown call
Armando Galarraga will never taste this again. Sure, we have had two perfect games -- yes, two -- already this season, but history shows those things happen once every six or so years, and he is a working-class swingman who is 20-18 lifetime, entered the start with a 5.23 earned-run average and has spent part of the 2010 season in the Minor Leagues.
So when veteran umpire Jim Joyce called Jason Donald safe at first base with two outs in the ninth inning Wednesday night and cost Galarraga his perfect game, the Tigers pitcher lost his moment on the podium. This will call for further review of instant replay, requests that there be a fifth umpire in the press box with full video capabilities to "get it right."
Now, we appreciate that this will result in many decisions in which the camera angles provide inconclusive proof, and that it could delay games, although what do swarms of players, managers and coaches debating with umpires do other than waste everyone's time?
Joyce's call isn't related to the attitudinal issues of other umpires raised in the past month. This isn't Bill Hahn overreacting and wrongly ejecting Roy Oswalt. This isn't a walk-off balk called by a second base umpire because, as the cameras showed, third base umpire Bob Davidson had his back turned to the play. This isn't Angel Hernandez and Joe West and their repeated problems with the White Sox, Rays, Red Sox and other teams.
When Donald hit a soft ground ball wide of first, Miguel Cabrera reacted and chased the ball into the right-side hole -- instead of setting up an easy play for second baseman Carlos Guillen -- and threw to the pitcher as he covered the base. The throw was in time. Countless replays showed Galarraga had his foot on the bag in time, even though he juggled the toss.
Joyce simply missed the call, like Don Denkinger in 1985, like thousands of umpires in baseball history. Problem is, Joyce and Denkinger will be remembered for what they missed, not for their distinguished careers. Donald texted "I wish I hit a line drive single -- everyone would be happier." It would have been a healthier one-hitter.
What is remarkable is that what unfurled after the call was so civilized, so refreshing. Joyce admitted he blew it. Jim Leyland said "no one feels worse than Joyce." And when Galarraga faced the media, he didn't plead for pity. He recalled that when he got to the clubhouse, Joyce was waiting for him. "He told me he was sorry, that he missed the call," said Galarraga.
"He's human. He made a mistake. He feels terrible. I gave him a hug."
Leyland, who has long argued that umpires today are faced with unfair scrutiny because of all the television analysis of their calls, insisted on acting in a civilized manner. Galarraga had compassion for Joyce, who had compassion for Galarraga.
Nothing is going to change what happened. The Tigers still won 3-0; the World Series was not decided by the missed call. There was no string of obscenities from Galarraga, Leyland or Cabrera, no rash of ejections by Joyce or the rest of the crew.
Joyce may have robbed Galarraga of his place in history, and the price for his mistake is that the umpire, in turn, has his own place in history. When the shouts of "What can we do about this?" rise above the crowds, perhaps the answer will be additional instant replay.
But the most important lesson to be learned from what happened in Detroit is that Joyce, Galarraga and Leyland never lost their dignity. They treated the game and one another with respect.
At a time when we are besieged by extremist, take-the-low-road differences of opinion and voices that feel the need to scream obscenities, Joyce, Galarraga and Leyland demonstrated the best of instincts. In the end, they reminded everyone young and old of the words of John Grisham, words often repeated by Mariano Rivera: "There is nothing wrong with civility."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.