For those of you that have not yet seen what took place earlier tonight in the Indians-Tigers game, 28-year-old Armando Galarraga took the hill for Detroit in just his third start of the season after being called up to replace an injured Dontrelle Willis and threw what one Tigers broadcaster described as "greatest pitching experience in Tiger history." He mowed down the opposition, retiring the first 26 batters with ease (with help from a spectacular defensive play), throwing a minuscule 80 pitches, 62 of which were thrown for strikes. Indians shortstop Jason Donald walked up to the plate, falling victim - like the rest of his team - to Galarraga, grounding out to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who flipped quickly over to the bag, retiring the 27th batter of the game. At least, that's what should have happened.
What actually happened was much, much more disheartening than anything else that could've. Veteran umpire Jim Joyce botched the call, calling a clearly-out Donald safe, ruining the young pitcher's bid for baseball immortality. Armando managed to get Trevor Crowe to ground out to first, "preserving" the one-hitter, but the elephant stood quite plainly in the forefront of everyone's mind: an unforgivably bad call just took away a piece of baseball history from all of us. It would have been quite a bit more acceptable and considerably easier to swallow if, say, Donald had singled to left. It was the manner in which perfection was blown that was so draining. Galarraga had done absolutely everything right, retiring all 27 batters, yet it proved not enough.
Is there any question that the runner's out?
After it all ended, I immediately flipped to ESPN (the only sports channel available to me at the moment) and opened up a few sports blogs to get the knee-jerk feedback. The blogosphere lit up - all comments invariably angry - with people calling for Joyce's immediate termination, as well as some other "colorful" options for the umpire. Something else, though, that was continually brought up, is the topic of instant replay. The announcers during the Wednesday Night Baseball game spoke about it. The Tigers broadcasters spoke about it. SBNation's Tigers blog BlessYouBoys spoke about it, and a simple Google search shows that the topic's been brought a new life with the recent circumstances. Say what you will about the topic, there's no doubt that the blown call certainly lends credence to the argument in favor of instituting some form of instant replay.
The man that should be responsible for the 21st perfect game in MLB history.
I've seen a few theories about how exactly the MLB should implement its form of replay, the most prominent of which is similar to the one currently used in the National Football League, in which the coach (manager) has an allotted amount of "challenges" that can be used to try and overturn botched calls. Once a challenge is used, the officials confer and video replay is used to find "incontrovertible visual evidence" proving that the call was incorrect, and if it's found, the call is overturned. Some fans are calling for an MLB implementation of this, wherein managers are given one challenge per game to use at their will. To put it to an obvious situation, Jim Leyland could have used his token challenge (had it gone unused up until this point) to review Donald's "hit", resulting in what one can only assume would be a proper "out" call, cementing Galarraga's spot in the baseball history books.
Another system that I've seen called for (granted, nowhere near the scale of the challenge system) is to have a dedicated "replay" umpire, an umpire that would watch the game and call for plays to be reviewed when he sees fit. This method, which would likely be quite successful, would have plenty of drawbacks. What if there are five poorly-called plays in the game, or this replay official incorrectly calls for a review? The games would end up being longer than they need to be, killing any momentum that the game may have had going at the time. Not as feasible as the first option, but it's certainly an idea and good food for thought.
Maybe the MLB could simply revise their current stance on home run calls and extend it to the rest of the game. As of now, if there's any sort of question whether a home run's fair or foul, whether it cleared the fence, or whether or not a fan interfered with the play, the umpires confer and view the play again, then reversing the call if necessary. The system could easily be expanded to include all plays of these sorts - if anything is borderline, it gets reviewed, ensuring that the game's played as fair as possible and called the same way. Again, though, I fear that a system like this would severely hinder a game's flow, as these sort of borderline plays happen constantly, from the first pitch until the final out., and thus, I still don't see this as feasible as a challenge system.
Baseball has a problem, Mr. Selig, and you're the only one that can fix it.
That's not to say, though, that the challenge method is by any means "perfect", though. Where would you draw the line - could the managers use their challenges to calls balls and strikes, or should it only be limited to plays? What about something like an incorrectly-called balk? Would using any sort of these systems set a dangerous precedent, leading to a future where umpires are altogether abolished or have their power minimized, balls and strikes being called electronically At what point would we be putting the days of the "human element" behind us, entering a largely technologically-officiated game?
Regardless of what the MLB decides on (if it ends up putting any sort of replay system into effect), there will be backlash from all sides over how "poorly" it's done and how it ruins the sanctity of the game, removing the "human" element. If they don't do anything, they run the risk of a repeat of Joyce's now infamous call, a situation where absolutely no one wins. It's entirely possible that my position on all of this can be attributed to the fact that I haven't been around the baseball scene for very long at all (if it puts it in perspective, I grew up in the heart of the Steroid Era), which could explain why I don't see the issue in slightly removing the human element. I don't see the harm, really - no matter the argument, any chance of repeating what happened tonight needs to be removed from the game as soon as possible. A young pitcher went out there, and did everything right, and the "human element" turned his piece of baseball history into yet another one of the other 622 complete game one-hitters.