Saturday, June 05, 2010

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

I know that this whole baseball instant replay issue has been beaten within an inch of its life in the past few days but I feel the need to beat it just a little bit more simply because I haven't heard my point argued yet.

For you cave dwellers, and I know you're out there, the story goes as follows. Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from a throwing a perfect game against Cleveland this past Wednesday. Jim Joyce, a Major League Baseball umpire for the last 23 years, was minding first base when Indians shortstop Jason Donald hit a routine ground ball to Miguel Cabrera who tossed it to first for the apparent game ending and historic final out. Joyce erroneously called the runner safe putting an abrupt end to what should have been the 21st perfect game in MLB history.

After seeing the post-game replay Joyce admitted to making a mistake and, to use a tired old baseball cliche, nobody felt as bad about the play than Jim Joyce. I'm glad Jim Joyce feels like the bad guy in this situation because, frankly, he is. At that point in the game, Joyce's ONLY responsibility is to watch the play at first and call the runner safe or out. To say he blew the call would be a disservice to the word "blew".

If MLB had instant replay for plays like this the call would have been reversed and Galarraga would have his perfect game and Joyce would be forgotten as a historical footnote and everybody would be happy. My problem is, I don't want Joyce to be forgotten. I want Jim Joyce and every other umpire who makes an incredibly awful call to be forced to have the guts to actually make that incredibly awful call and then suffer the consequences when they are proven wrong.

If umpires have instant replay to fall back on we're going to see a dramatic increase in shoddy umpiring, something that has been all too prevalent in ballgames this year. Think about it...why would an umpire make the effort to get a call right when he knows that any bad call he makes will get reversed upon further review? These guys have proven themselves to be bad enough. Let's not give them another reason to be lazy and incompetent.

I know about blown calls all too well. The image of umpire Phil Cuzzi calling Joe Mauer's double up the left field line a foul ball in the 11th inning of game 2 in last years ALDS is still seared...seared... in my memory. In the moments following that call I would have given my left arm for an instant replay reversal. After my rage subsided (about four weeks later) I came to my senses.

Blown calls are an integral part of baseball. It's what separates the game from lesser sports like basketball, football and (sorry Elder and JB) hockey. Sure, referees screw things up in all sports, but no other game has an official directly involved in the outcome of every single play. There's a captivating mystique surrounding the game of baseball that makes one agonizing instant of a ballgame live on in fans' memories for decades. Mention the name of umpire Don Denkinger to any St. Louis Cardinals fan and you'll get a sense of what I mean.

Umpires are part of the game and when they are good, nobody notices them...and that's the way it should be. When they are bad, however (and Joyce was INCREDIBLY bad), they should be remembered for being bad.

If Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner can be man enough to live with the fact that he handed game 6 of the 1986 World Series to the Mets then Jim Joyce should be man enough to live with the fact that he took a perfect game from Armando Galarraga.

Instant replay would give umpires the pass they need to avoid living with the calls they make, and that's just not good for baseball.