Hyperreal Baseball

Hyperreal Baseball June 7, 2010

Everyone has weighed in on Jim Joyce’s blown call at first base last week, a call which cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a potential perfect game.  And by everyone, I mean that there are 6,300 articles on Google News about it and 300,000 blog posts.  As a former umpire with 20+ years behind the plate, here are my thoughts:

1) If Joyce were to blow a call, it should have been in Galarraga’s favor. What I mean is, going into the 9th inning of a perfect game, he should have called a guy out who was safe by half-a-step.  He should have been saying in his mind going into that inning, “If it’s close, the runner is out.”  Why?  Because you don’t want to be the guy who blows the perfect game.

2) Of course Bud Selig should not “overrule” the call and award Galarraga a perfect game. Why?  Because the commissioner should not get involved with on-the-field play that does not affect a team’s record.  And this call made no difference in the game.  It only made a difference to a pitcher (and his agent), who likely has a clause in his contract which pays him a bonus if he pitches a perfect game.

3) Keep replay the hell out of baseball. There are few things I despise more than coming back from a 4-minute commercial break in an NFL game and seeing the referee still under the hood.  Baseball is rife with what umpires call “bang-bang plays” at first base, not to mention close sliding plays at the other bases.  Replay would slow down what it already the slowest major sport there is, and sure disrupt the rhythm that makes baseball special.

4) There’s no crying in baseball. Yet Joyce did cry, both after the game when he apologized to Galarraga in the locker room, and the next day when Galarraga brought the starting line-up card to Joyce at home plate.  Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that whole meeting at home plate was scripted.  And don’t forget that just moments before, Galarraga was given a $75K red, convertible Corvette by (taxpayer-owned) General Motors.

Jimmy Dugan said it best:

With this incident, I submit that baseball has entered into the realm of the hyperrealJean Baudrillard defined the hyperreal as a world in which we consume copies for which their are no originals.  In other words, the reality of baseball has so exceeded anything that Abner Doubleday invented, that it no longer bears any resemblance to the original.

Crying umpires, pitchers missing out on contractual bonuses, and publicly financed automakers giving away sports cars at homeplate — not to a winning fan, but to a highly paid player.  Baseball is, as Baudrillard would say, “The simulation of something which never really existed.”

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  • Kenton

    I was hoping you’d weigh in on this, friend, pomo thinker and former ump.

    As, all three, I’d like your reaction to this amateur fan, and amateur pomo thinker’s analysis:

    1. Joyce initially thought: If it’s close the runner is out.
    2. Then Joyce thought: No, I can’t do that, for the objectivity of the game. If Galarraga is going to pitch a perfect game, he’s going to have to earn it. If there’s a tie at first, it goes to the runner, just like any other time. It’s my job to be “objective” and “free of bias.”
    3. Having that thought of “tie = safe” in his head, Joyce “saw” a tie, (Well, he *thought* he saw a tie, anyway.) and made the call as “safe.”

    • Kenton,

      The problem with your line of thinking is that one of the first thing one learns in umpire school is that there is no such thing as a tie. There’s no “tie goes to the runner” rule because there are no ties. So he wouldn’t have been thinking that…

  • John L

    Normally, I would agree that baseball is not a place for tears. But this is different. I cried with Joyce when I watched that video. Something about this event has transcended sport, especially in the extraordinary grace shown by Galarraga in the tension of the moment.

    That said, let this not be an excuse to bring “instant review” into baseball.

    On the other hand, Galarraga pitched a perfect game and should be recognized as such in his career stats. An asterisk is not enough. The commissioner, with the approval of the league teams, can make an official stat change. And while in virtually any other circumstance I would be against such manipulation, I think in this case – perhaps a once-in-our-lifetime exception – it is justified.

    • Yes, John, it pulled at my heartstrings, too. But as important as individual stats are in baseball, there are lots of players who’ve lost individual honors that they should have won were it not for a twist of fate. An asterisk, maybe. But if he changes it, it won’t be a “once-in-a-lifetime exception.” Instead, it will open the door to many more overturnings.

      And, make no mistake, this is about money to Galarraga. Call me cynical, but that’s my read.

  • Tim

    I thought Galarraga’s reaction, the smile he flashed immediately after the call, was gracious. It said, “I don’t believe it, but I’m also not going to jump down your throat.” He set the tone for what followed. He was gracious. Yes, his teammates and manager came to his defense. They argued his case. They told Joyce they saw the replay and he was wrong. But after the game Galarrage, Leyland, and the team displayed compassion for the umpire. That’s what I’ll always remember. It’s the “lesson” I hope everyone learns. Forgive us our sins as we forgive the “blown calls” made against us. It was a small thing, only a game. But maybe if we get better at the little things, we’ll get better at the bigger things. Peace,Tim

  • Tony,

    i agree with your first point for sure, but totally disagree about the no crying in baseball thing.

    dude has devoted the last 20 years of his life to umping in the majors (and probably many years before that moving up the ranks as well). It’s his career and his livelihood, and in one instant – literally in one split second – the instinct that has helped him become one of the elite at his profession let him down. And because of it, he will forever be known as “the guy who screwed up the perfect game on the last out”.

    you’ve gotta admit, that’s a tough pill to swallow. heck, it almost brings me to tears 🙂

  • Kenton

    Well I learned something today. I always thought there was a “tie goes to the runner rule.” (Thanks.)

    So, could he still have been thinking, “Hey, I can’t my excitement about calling a perfect game get in the way of my ‘objectivity.’ I still have to be fair to the runner”? And then his supposed impartiality becomes partiality to the runner? There’s something about the pomo in me that says one can never be *totally* objective, and sometimes you’re at your least objective when you’re trying to be at the most.

    So with that in mind, the lesson is that not only should he have made the call in Galarraga’s favor (to your point), but that the idea of making the call in Galarraga’s favor should have explicitly trumped the “try to be impartial” mindset.

    Then again, maybe *I’m* trying to hard. 🙂

  • Tony,

    I take one exception with your argument: Galarraga isn’t pushing to have the call overruled. Neither is his agent. The club isn’t either. The push came from reporters, bloggers, and the general public. If Galarraga was demanding it be overturned, you’d might be onto something. But he’s not, and I think it is disingenuous to suggest it’s for the money. It overlooks the non-hyperreal moment right after the call: the look on Galarraga’s face as he accepted the call, no yelling, kicking dirt, or beating the crap out of Joyce. The impromptu, uncalled for apology by Joyce after he saw the replay at the end of the game. Galarraga’s comment at the post-game press conference: “Nobody’s perfect.” He accepted the outcome, and while probably a little miffed at it, moved on.

    Was the home plate thing scripted? Probably. I’m sure it started out with a good intention, then had to be scripted so the PA could tell people what was going on. But that doesn’t make Joyce’s tears any less real. Even if you know something is coming, the moment can still overwhelm you. For a guy who had been completely vilified the night before, and had people calling his family with less-then-pleasant greeting (if they were anything like the edits on his Wikipedia page, I’m sure nobody enjoyed listening to them). This was probably an extraordinarily nice gesture that he wasn’t expecting until he got the heads up a few moments before. When it did happened, he cried, nothing wrong about that.

    As for replay, if they run it like college football, or tennis, they’ll be fine. Just don’t use the NFL model.

  • Drew,

    Good point. A.G. is not pushing to have it overturned. And he’s not a prima donna. He’s an average pitcher who will probably never pitch that well again.

    And I’m not suggesting that Joyce’s tears were staged. In fact, I’m quite sure they were not. From what everyone says, he’s a pretty excellent guy, unlike a lot of umpires. So maybe I was just looking for a reason to embed the League of Their Own clip. 🙂

  • Of course, you know I will not comment on theological matters, but if you mention sports or music, “it is on.”

    Commissioners have overruled on the field rulings before, such as the Pine Tar game in 1983. It is his prerogative and within his purview. You may disagree, but this incident shows, while not the same, that a commish can overrule an on the field call. In fact, you give nothing beyond, “He shouldn’t” to justify point #2. I would say, “he should” and my point would be held up by just as much logic and facts.

    Also, in 1908 a play on the field was overturned by the umpires the next day. http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Merkle's_Boner

    In fact, the Commish could have just said that “while the play stands, we will say this is a perfect game.” While it seems illogical, Fay Vincent went back in time and declared many no-hitters as non-no-hitters based upon his interpretation of the facts. The same can be done on the flipside.

    He did actually throw a perfect game. Unlike most baseball outcomes, giving him the game (which he fully earned) affects nothing but small percentage points in a players batting average that was called out… nothing else. Except the guy that actually did it. It changes everything for him.

    I do agree with #1 and think that it is verifiable.

    #2 is your opinion, not based upon any “facts” which is totally okay, but I think “Of course” presupposes something that is not there (it is not obvious that Selig should have not intervened).

    #3 is based upon the same sort of thinking that keeps modern religion from moving forward. the whole change is scary and will lead to a slippery slope of modernity. We should keep ourselves in the past in which the outside changes played no effect on the way we see the world. You are proving yourself a closeted modernist and possible fundamentalist.

    #4 Sports is about the only thing that makes me cry. By the way, if something is scripted, then real emotion cannot be involved? That level of cynicism impresses me.

    I think I need to send you a copy of Ken Burns’ Baseball and a copy of the King James Version of the Bible.

    • Rick, my retorts:
      1) Of course, I’m right. 🙂
      2) The pine tar overruling is one of the most galling moments in baseball history, and here’s why: the umpire called the rule as it’s written. It was NOT a mistake by an umpire. The opposing manager appealed, the umpire measured, and the pine tar was far past the limit. It was not a judgment call. The rule could have been changed ex post facto, but the call should not have been. That umpire, Tim McClelland, should be commended.
      3) I disagree. I’m not against change, per se, but against change that is clearly not in the best interests of the game. I think the replay challenge in the NFL is a joke — not because it’s inaccurate, but because games now last close to 4 hours, of which only 11 minutes are actual playing time.
      4) If sports is the only thing that can make you cry, then I’m going to send you Sex and the City 2.

  • Eric

    Reviewing the call via instant replay would have taken less time than it took the manager to get off the field after arguing the call. The “bang-bang” play was already interrupted. It would be very quick to have an official up in the booth for just such an occasion.

    The problems with umps is they can’t humble themselves enough to admit they were wrong. This is exactly what Jim Joyce did and the nation forgave him.

    Get off your high-horse.

  • Good point Eric. Arguing managers take an inordinate amount of time, much less than I guy in a replay booth calling down to the field and saying, “Jim, you might want to check the monitor.” It works in hockey,

  • courtney

    So, I didn’t read this post because you said I didn’t have to because it’s about baseball and you know I could care less, but I DID look at the photos . . . and . . . is that dude picking his nose?