Life Isn’t Fair: Galarraga’s Imperfectly Perfect Game

The decks are awash: the tears have already reached the scuppers, and there’s no sign of abatement. The output from the perpetually lachrymose has been prodigious.

Even people who aren’t baseball fans are screaming, eyes bedewed, for justice—justice at any cost!

“They outta let managers have red flags!”

“Why don’t they have instant replay? They have it everywhere else!”

“Oh, hu, hu hu! It isn’t fair!”

Before one more word: I am a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Although I no longer live in that shell of a city (and its degradation is truly something worth weeping over), I routinely pay for remote access to the games, and follow the team both on and off season.

Like any fan, I’m happy when the team wins, not so happy when they lose. It might even be true that, in my greener days, my passion was such that the intersection of my metacarpals and phalanges met and breeched the thin veneer of an apartment door in San Antonio after the Tige’s dropped a game in the 1984 series.

(I am enough of a fan to know that the previous sentence does not contain a typo.)

I also wasn’t so happy when Jim Joyce blew the call which changed Armando Galarraga’s recorded game from a no hitter to a one hitter.

My disappointment was almost immediately tempered by my now advanced age, but also by the way Joyce—who is the spitting image of my Uncle Pat—handled his mistake. “I blew it,” he said. And he said it over and over, emphasizing and demonstrating that he knew of the importance of his missed call. He screwed up and took his medicine like a man. What more can you ask for?

Turns out, a lot of people are asking for a hell of lot more. They are asking that baseball be forever altered. But should we be picketing Bud Selig’s office with posters that read “Change we can believe in”?

Let’s pause to understand exactly what happened. Galarraga indeed pitched a perfect game, one of only twenty others in the history of the game. Wait a second. Did you get that? Galarraga pitched a perfect game.

Everybody knows this. But many are besides themselves with grief because Galarraga’s game won’t be recorded in some dusty tome without a superscripted asterisk. These people are acting like the fans of a hit movie that did not win the Oscar who have falsely convinced themselves that the lack of a goofy statue on the Director’s mantle somehow diminishes the beauty of the film.

There are growing calls for Selig to “reverse” the umpire’s call, and thus retroactively change history. Perhaps, in their fevered imaginations, they see Selig removing his ducal dagger to cut the sealed records, they envision that his magic eraser swabbing out Galarraga’s asterisk will ease their pain.

You know what these cries sound like? Exactly like a people trained to grieve over every perceived inconvenience. “Oh, why won’t they pass a new rule or law and so restore justice?” They are like the children who have refused to believe that life isn’t fair and that it is sometimes tragic, and who say that if only we tinker with the system sufficiently and overlay enough provisos, then nothing will go wrong. Where else have we heard that?

For over a century players have styled their game and managers have developed methods to account for the human element and possibility of umpire error. For example, you ever see a catcher shift his glove from off the bag to somewhere closer to the strike zone in order to fool the ump? It sometimes works, especially on the close calls.

Injustice! But do you eliminate it short of putting an camera inside the catcher’s mask, a team of videographers then reviewing each pitch. Won’t that be fun.

There are dozens of other examples. But we have enough experience with instant reply in other sports to know that its introduction in baseball will be no panacea. Already in football, we are one step shy of allowing lawyers to rush the field after each play to file little red affidavits. Games will soon no longer be decided at stadiums, but in the courts.

Anyway, instant replay is imperfect. The camera angles are not always cooperative, the delays caused by umpires peering at cloth covered screens are interminable, and the reversals, when the come, are always a let down. True, they give a momentary sense of triumph that all is set right, but they leave a bad taste because the game has been shifted from men to machines.

But best argument is: How do we know any change will result in a healthier game overall? Biologists tells us that nearly all mutations are bad. And history has taught us that the best laid plans of progress oft go awry.

Conserve the game as it is. Resist change, embrace tradition.


  1. DAV

    Who needs replays? All you need is a rule that states “any team getting more than zero hits against the Tige’s automatically loses”. Or maybe extend that to any team who breaks any pitcher’s no-hitter streak. I mean there’s a sportsmanship issue (* I know haw much that word is loved *) here.

    Once upon a time there was a cartoon in the papers called “There Oughta Be a Law”. The title was a common complaint uttered against unfairness. Unfortunately, it’s now more reality than complaint. So maybe we’ll see a no-hitter rule soon?

    The world is going to Hell in a handbasket — there oughta be a law!

  2. Katie

    Krauthammer said that Galaraga has the singular entry on his own list… that he doesn’t have to be crowded out by so many others, or words to that effect.

  3. dearieme

    Replays work pretty well in cricket; “pretty well” is the best that can be hoped for.

  4. D Johnson

    Question: Couldn’t Joyce, after making the call and seeing the apparently sincere adverse reactions of the hardly unbiased players and fans, have asked for the opinions of his fellow umpires? Since there wasn’t anything else for them to be looking at, they probably would have told him he blew the call, and he could have reversed his call within the rules.

    It might have hurt is pride to have done so, but less so than the actual outcome. And no instant replay would have been involved.

  5. bob

    Sports history is full of bad officiating and imperfect calls. Fans used to sit in rain and snow to watch football games, but modern times have caught up with and pretty much nullified that sentiment.

    In some places air conditioned ball parks are necessary to keep fans and players from falling out with heat exhaustion (Houston, for example). Not all games are best played in the great outdoors.

    I don’t see any problem with updating the game with commonly available technology. Why should we put up with inadequate officiating? The strike/ball thing can be electronically monitored. The technology is available, and might cost less than an official’s salary.

    Why can’t questionable base running calls be changed?

    But, then, I am not a Tiger’s fan. I am just another techie nerd bent on making the world untenable for sports traditionalists.

  6. costanza

    Most of my experience has been as a tennis player (I was nationally ranked in high school), and ice hockey (in which I was not). But I can easily state that bad calls which go against you and bad calls which go for you are all part and parcel of the game.

  7. Doug M


    You nailed this one!

    Galarraga knows what he did. As do his team mates, the rest of baseball, and most of fandom. Isn’t that what is really important?

    I spent some time pondering this situation, torn between what are the rules, what would be “right” and where the slippery slope would lead.

    If the umpire obviously blew the call the other way. i.e. the runner is was safe and the umpire called him out, no one would say that there should be an asterisk that follows the game.

    One half baked fix I came up would be to say that Jason Donald reached on an error (against the ump). Making this a no-hit no-walk game.

  8. Speed

    A friend who works within shouting distance of a cable connected TV said last week, “If I hear one more word about that friggin’ perfect game or the g** d*** oil spill, the office manager is going to need an endoscope to watch the news.”

  9. I think Selig should take the simple course, and give Galarraga a 28-out one-hitter perfect game. If they can give Roger Maris a goddamn asterisk on his 61-game season, they can do this.

  10. Fat Man

    Tiger fans can take a great deal of comfort in the idea, based on history, that Galarraga’s imperfecto, will not only be remembered, but will be celebrated, by true fans of the Game for ages to come. It will be up there in baseball lore with games, like Merkle’s boner, the Ernie Lombardi’s homer in the gloaming, and Harvey Hadix’s 11 perfect innings.

    As for replays forget about it. We will just substitute one set of mistakes and errors for another set, and we will stretch out the games which have already gotten too long.

  11. TomVonk

    Interesting thing , culture …
    Actually even impressive .
    I surely understand better chinese than this post where for me familar words grouped together in totally ununderstable sentences .
    And I can tell that I belong to this minority who at least knows that baseball is being played with a stick and involves running around a square what people seem to consider to be a rather good thing to be done .
    Heavily selective this one William 🙂

  12. Briggs


    It’s a diamond!

    Of course, I’m also looking forward to seeing the Italian Diving Competition in South African next week.

    Doug M,

    I like your argument about what would have happened in the call had been in error, but for the opposite reason. I can’t imagine anybody calling for a rule change then.

  13. Chuck

    The thing that gets lost in all of this outcry is “how many perfect games have been ruined due to a bad call in the first inning? or the third?” No one ever cared about those games because they didn’t realize that it would have been a perfect game except for one bad call.

    In any sport with human judges mistakes will be made and they are part of the game. Getting past the bad calls is just one more element that makes a perfect game so special. So let’s all follow Galarraga’s lead – suck it up and move on.

  14. Ron C

    I’m so tired of overpaid, mediocre (by MLB standards, certainly in the tail of the overall distribution of baseball players) players who complain about everything.

    Perhaps the true lesson to be had from this is how Mr. Galarraga responded. He didn’t whine and stomp his feat, nor did he pout. He simply continued with the game, and later complimented the umpire on his coming to the pitcher to say that he did indeed blow the call.

    Want to see grown men play a game, watch the NHL playoffs. No whining, no complaining. Heck, when they get hurt (I saw two players lose teeth during these playoffs), they make their way to the bench and return to the game as soon as possible. They compete at their best for the entire duration of each game, and at the end of a series when one team has lost and the other won, they line up and shake hands.


    PS: For someone on the other side of the spectrum of Mr. Galarraga, consider Milt Pappas of the Chicago Cubs. He still holds a grudge, 38 years later, against the umpire who called ball 4 on the 27th batter.

    PPS: Go Hawks!

  15. Mikey

    What about one replay per game barring balls and strikes? The manager could then flag the play, force the replay adjudication, then get on with the game. The beauty here is that the replay call would go mostly unused and situations like Galarraga’s or plays at the plate could be corrected. With only having one replay, the manager would reserve it for something important to the outcome of the game. In many games that time would never come.

  16. stosh

    Spot on in your presentation of this issue.

    I’d be curious how many fans could name a half-dozen of the pitchers who’ve thrown perfect games (excluding those who did so during the lifetimes of those fans), and how many could identify the relevance of Harvey Haddix to this issue.

    By the way, is it possible for someone from Detroit named Briggs *not* to be a Tigers fan?

  17. Briggs


    Exactly so.

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