Friday, June 04, 2010

Life's a Pitch

Oh, Armando Galarraga. You’re perfect as far as I can tell.

Something really, really bothers me about that blown call. I’m not sure what, though. It seemed obvious enough at first, but the more I talked about it with people who assured me that not only was I wrong, but also whiny and melodramatic, the reason became less clear.

I’m not mad at the umpire, Jim Joyce. He made the call in a split-second decision, admitted he was wrong and apologized to Galarraga. If anything, that’s an impressive show of decency, not to mention a rare concession that umps are anything less than godlike. So it’s not that.

I’m not mad at Galarraga either. He’s a class act. An Associated Press photo taken immediately after the play shows him smiling, an expression that says, oh well. He’s also gone out of his way to show friendliness toward Joyce. He hasn’t been publicly frustrated at all, and if anyone ever had a right to be, it’s him. So it’s not that either.

I’m also not mad at those who suggest that we put emotions aside and do absolutely nothing, because absolutely nothing can be done. I don’t agree with that philosophy, but there’s a good case to make for it.

When I think about Commissioner Bud Selig rejecting any reversal out-of-hand, I think I get closer to the truth. See, there was once a time when baseball absolutely enraptured me. This was in years packed with nines and ones. I loved everything about it - the field, the ambiance, the statistics, the cards and the hats. Especially the hats. And I still do, to a large extent.

My first serious goal in life was to be a professional baseball player. I might have had vague aspirations to be a mechanic prior to that, and I know I wanted to make license plates at some point (that point being before I understood precisely who made license plates); but otherwise my entire adolescence was devoted to making the majors. Not that I ever played on an organized team or anything, at least after two years of T-ball, but I figured if I believed in my dreams and all that crap, I’d make it with ease.


(I’m the sensitive-looking boy, if that helps. Number 7 if it doesn't.)

Then reality interceded. The New Orleans Saints started winning, and suddenly I had a new, far more intense (and local) obsession. I wound up playing football my senior year in high school. By then, my transformation as a sports fan was complete. And is probably the precise reason why I feel very differently than many baseball fans about the Galarraga call.

Football and baseball are entirely different sports. No, I’m about to go George Carlin on you. OK, maybe a little bit. It’s very true what Carlin said about baseball being a 19th century pastoral game and football being a 20th century technological struggle. Football embraces technology to account for human error. Baseball not only does not embrace technology to account for human error, it actually celebrates human error as part of the game. It’s tradition!

And thus, I think this is where my anger over this situation lies: Even though the call was proven way, way wrong, and nearly everyone including the umpire himself thinks so, and it came at what would have been the end of one of the few perfect games in baseball history, it all fell into one man’s hands, Selig’s, to decide, eh, what can you do?

To err is human, yeah, I get it. But upholding that call requires a bizarre level of adherence to initial impressions. I’m just glad science and education don’t work this way. We’d still be warning our kids that tomatoes are poisonous.

I understand I’m in a minority here. For most in baseball, the idea of instant replay is a horrible prospect. It goes against everything the game represents, we’re told. It takes the game out of the umpires’ hands, or it would slow it down, or managers would abuse it, or whatever. They say if you start reversing calls, then you open up Pandora’s can of worms and you’ll have to change the winner of the 1985 World Series. Blast that Don Denkinger!!

So, clearly, we have to put all emotion aside and make the right decision.

As someone looking in from the outside on this terrible relationship, I have to ask: isn’t the fact that so many calls are consistently blown in baseball proof that, at the very least, someone should question the absolute sacrosanctness of umpires? Football does it with its officials, and the sport hasn’t collapsed. There are limits to the number of challenges, when they can be called, who can call them and what it takes to overturn a decision. And there are consequences for the challenging team if the ruling on the field stands.

My modest, admittedly undefined proposal for baseball is the equivalent of booth review: umpires can challenge and review a potentially pivotal, and contested, play. Maybe a set number per game, perhaps only in late innings and on highly questionable plays. It would keep the games in the hands of umpires, rather than outside whim, and would at least lend the impression that the sport is not so gleefully resigned to its self-imposed judgment limitations.

Something, at least. As cynical as I can be at times, I hate resignation. “That’s just the way it is.” “Nothing you can about it.” “Life isn’t fair.” “No whining.” I’m a born problem-solver at heart, so I always prefer evolution to tradition (that’s a whole different post, though). As long as the change is good (*cough*NFL*cough*). Even if they review it and determine nothing’s necessary, that’s still a positive development. At least think about it.

It’s probably for the best that I never became a pro athlete.

1 comment:

venessalewis said...

You're not whiny....you just care too much. ;)