Thursday, June 3, 2010

Only in Baseball

I'd originally planned something else entirely for today's post, but after just turning off a baseball game unlike any other that I've ever seen, I felt like I needed to talk about it.

Last night, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga came within one out of throwing a perfect game (no hits, walks, or baserunners allowed) before he lost it with two outs in the ninth inning.

Which, while rare, has happened before in the long history of baseball.

What makes last night's near-perfection the fact that, well, here's what happened.

Galarraga got the hitter to bounce a weak ground ball to the right side of the infield.

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera ranged to his right, fielded the ball cleanly, and threw to Galarraga, who was covering the vacant first base.

What happens next is where things get pretty bad.

Galarraga catches the throw from his first baseman and steps on the bag, beating the hitter who is sprinting down the line. He's out. Very out. Ballgame over. Perfect game in the record books.
Only, that didn't happen.

Cabrera fielded cleanly and threw perfectly, and Galarraga caught the throw and stepped on first base before the runner got there. But the umpire called the runner safe.

No perfect game, no celebration on the field, no history.

A young pitcher had achieved one of the greatest, rarest feats in all of baseball. To put it into perspective, in 135 years, there have only been 20 perfect games thrown.

Think about that for a moment. Every team plays 161 games, every season. And in 135 seasons, there have only been 20 perfect games.

Like I said, history.

And this year, there have been two perfect games--both this month. The first time there's ever been two in a season since the late 1800s. Three in a season? Wow. Three in a month?

History, indeed.

So the easy thing to do is to sit back and say things like, if I had messed up as badly at my job as that first base umpire did last night, I think it's safe to say I would not have been asked back the next day.

And, honestly, you can't really argue with that.

He messed up, and he took away an astounding accomplishment from a young player. One, it's safe to say, Galarraga will likely never have a shot at again.

Now, I played the game for a long time--not as long as the pros, and not at that high a level--but I've been around the game up through college, and I know some things.

I was a catcher, so umpires (home plate umpires, especially) were my friends. Sometimes out of necessity, but often because my position allowed me the opportunity to talk with umpires.

How's the family? What'd you do this weekend? How do you like the Cowboys this year?

Lots of players address umpires as "blue" (the color of their uniform), or "ump," but I was taught to always address umpires as "sir." It's a respect thing, and when I started coaching, that was literally one of the first rules I told my players to follow--or sit on the bench.

And you never, ever argue with umpires. Not even in college, when it's more acceptable for a player to do so. That's the coach's job.

As a coach, I argued a couple of calls here and there, and only actually yelled once. But then I talked to the umpire for a while after the game--a guy I'd known for years--and we both laughed about it.

So, yeah, I sympathize with umpires.

But then there's the other side of me--the one who said many times on the bench that umpires are right 50% of the time. And they're only wrong on the big, important plays.

To half the guys on the field, a close play will be blown every game.

That's just the nature of sport. My guy's running down the line--safe! Yep, good call, sir. My guy's stepping on first base--safe! Are you insane, sir?!

So, while I do sympathize with umpires--they make lightning fast calls on lightning fast plays in front of millions of people--last night's game left me feeling...well, sick.

I felt horrible for the pitcher.

A player I don't really know, on a team I don't really like. And I felt sick for him and for what he lost.

And then I saw his reaction--a smile, and he walked back to the pitcher's mound. And then I saw his post-game interview. "I gave (the umpire) a hug. I could tell he felt bad."

History? Maybe not. A good life lesson?



Michael said...

That's pretty amazing indeed.

Scott said...

Probably one of the best, most reasonable writeups about the incident I've seen from an umpiring perspective.

I don't even follow baseball and I feel bad for everyone involved...