jim joyce

How a Botched Perfect-Game Call Brought Out the Best in Everybody (Except Us)

If you can bear it, take a listen to the extended interview with Jim Joyce, the now-famous umpire whose wretched ninth-inning call last night cost Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Joyce is a man devastated by his own folly, befuddled that he, a man who takes his job as seriously as any man takes any job, could err so badly. He sounds like a man fully aware that this is what he’ll be known for, forever. It’s impossible not to feel awful for him. You almost feel worse for him than you do for Galarraga.

The direct participants in what instantly became one of the most famous plays in baseball history all handled themselves beautifully. Galarraga, as lovingly detailed by Joe Posnanski, reacted to Joyce’s call not with righteous fury, but with a simple smile. A smile, that, Posnanski posits, “seemed to say: ‘Are you sure? I really hope you are sure.’” After talking to reporters, Joyce asked to meet with Galarraga, where he apologized and nearly wept. “His body language said more than words,” Galarraga said. “His eyes were watering. You don’t have to say much. His body language said a lot.” Even manager Jim Leyland, who was dangerously close to biting off Joyce’s nose after the call, said, “Players are human, umpires are human, managers are human, writers are human … we all make mistakes. Jim [Joyce] is a very good umpire. He has been for a long time, but he probably got it wrong.”

It brought out the best in everyone. Everyone involved handled themselves in the way we would hope they would, the way we hope we would. Except for us. Except for the fans and the media and the pundits. We freaked the hell out.

As far as we can tell, there were four different memes that emerged last night, within seconds of the missed call. These memes were like all memes: burning bright, loud, and self-righteous, seemingly permanent by nature, but likely to vanish in a wisp once the outrage dimmed. This one incident brought out all the hacky punditry. It was a scary two hours to be on Twitter.

1. This is why MLB should have instant replay. Far and away the most common and, if you ask us, the most reasonable. (It’s still awkward when people instantaneously attach a painful event to their own agenda.) If MLB worked like the NFL, this would be the tipping event that led to an overhaul of umpires and replay. But the MLB is nothing like the NFL, for better and for worse. Also worth noting: The people screaming loudest about how this is proof there should be replay were just telling you two weeks ago that games were too long.

2. Mistakes are part of what makes baseball great. Best exemplified by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who wrote, “consider this for a second: How gratifying would it have felt if Joyce’s botched call was followed by a trip to the replay booth, a five-minute conference, the umpiring crew emerging from the tunnel and Joyce throwing up his right arm with an ‘out’ sign.” Uh … it would have been very gratifying? Are we crazy?

3. Bud Selig should overturn the play and award Galarraga the perfect game. This is kind of the baseball equivalent of George Lucas making it so Han Solo doesn’t shoot Greedo. If you start retroactively changing calls and changing results, well, our father and we would really like our 1985 World Series title, thank you.

4. FIRE JIM JOYCE. This speaks to our need for bloodlust and vengeance and, even in the angry airspace of Twitter, this had pretty much calmed down after Joyce made his statement. But the idea that firing an umpire after a bad call would ultimately lead to better umpiring rather than worse umpiring is a little crazy. Try telling a batter that the next time he makes a big mistake in an important situation, he’ll be fired. Let’s see how tightly he grips the bat next time.

This is nothing against punditry, “professional” and otherwise, of course; we can pundit with the best of them. There is just something slightly untoward about this small, human moment, in which two men, one perfect and one far from it, show compassion, empathy and warmth to each other … and we turn it into a screaming match about baseball bylaws and old-school versus new-school values. Yesterday was one of those magical and painful nights that only baseball can give us. It’s a night no one will ever forget. And it was the first real test of how baseball history is written when it’s written in the exact moment it’s happening. Forgive us: We came away unimpressed.

Though: If there was one good thing that came out of it, never before have more James Joyce lines been quoted on Twitter.

How a Botched Perfect-Game Call Brought Out the Best in Everybody (Except Us)