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Friday, June 4, 2010

Itís hard to be right when everyone else is wrong, but I accept that burden willingly. You know whatís even harder? Defending much-maligned and oft-loathed baseball commissioner Bud Selig. For one of the few times during his reign of terror, he made a decision that I agree with, and right now it seems like me and Bud against the world.

No use trying to change my mind. Iíve read all the columns and blogs and knee-jerk comments, some of them well thought out and rational enough to be nearly convincing. And to be fair, there are a few other deep thinkers out here on the fringe with me, but we are a lonely, scorned group of souls. Iíve been out here before, though, on less important issues than whether to overturn an umpireís call. (Peace, justice, brotherhood, things like that.)

The setup is widely known by now. The Pitcher isnít famous or particularly successful, except insofar as anyone who makes it to the major leagues can be considered a success at his craft. The Umpire is one of the most respected members of his profession. Both will be known, at least for now, for their role in the Incident.

The Pitcher had retired each of the first 26 batters, one out away from a perfect game. Then, on a close play, the Umpire made a bad call, ďsafeĒ when it should have been ďout,Ē and the game was no longer perfect. The Pitcher, knowing heíd gotten the out, smiled broadly and raised his arms in triumph, until he looked at the umpire and saw the safe signal. Others protested the injustice, while the Pitcher went back to his position and got one more out. The 28th, as a matter of fact.

That was the Incident that launched a storm of protest still being heard throughout the baseball world. The Umpire was sure he had made the right call, until he saw the replay. Then he was sure he had made the wrong call, and he apologized to the Pitcher, who accepted his apology with more grace than many thought it deserved.

The two met again at the game the next day, the Pitcher still smiling and the Umpire in tears. It was a better lesson for those who would make athletes into role models than any superhuman feat could ever provide. It was the kind of moment that makes baseball into what it is, a game whose great moments are handed down through the years like articles of folklore with spiritual significance.

Baseball is a sport of records and statistics, but itís a game of moments and history. Itís shared by generations and its great moments are enshrined in the memory of its fans. It would have been a great moment if the Pitcher had finished his perfect game. Once the game goes on, though, the moment is gone and cannot be recaptured. Those clamoring for a reversal of the call are missing the point. It actually became a more memorable moment with the Umpireís bad call and all that happened in the aftermath, including the apology and the controversy.

Beyond the loss of the Moment, there are other good reasons not to change the call in the aftermath, amidst a firestorm of voices demanding justice for the aggrieved Pitcher. Once you start changing games after theyíve been played, where do you stop? Once you change the rules because of popular opinion, where does it go from there?

And this wasnít even a crucial game, in the bigger picture. It didnít decide a championship, as did the several playoff games last season that were riddled with egregiously bad calls, about which nothing was done. All this bad call did was keep the Pitcher out of the record books, but it made him more famous and appreciated than he ever would have been otherwise. Famous, I might add, for reasons beyond athletics.

By now, everyone who cares about this at all has chosen a side. Positions are set in stone and minds are unlikely to be changed. Iím relieved that for once Bud Selig saw things the same way I did. This situation might lead to more instant replay on the field, which I would regret but which by now might be inevitable. If that happens, I hope itís handled correctly. And if it happens, it still shouldnít change games that are over and diminish moments that have passed.

1 June 2010

The Pitcherís name is Armando Galarraga. He pitches for the Detroit Tigers, and on June 2, 2010, he threw one of the most perfect of perfect games in the history of baseball, 28 consecutive outs. It isnít in the record books that way, but it will be in every history of baseball that includes its most memorable moments. A perfect game is just a statistic. This is better.

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