Joyce's Call Creates Not-So-Perfect Storm of MLB Controversy

Just incase you may have missed it: During the ninth inning of Detroit’s game against the visiting Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night -- which saw Tigers’ starter Armando Galarraga just one out away from a perfect game and on the threshold of securing a spot in MLB history -- first base umpire Jim Joyce elected to honor the old ‘tie goes to the runner’ rule on Indians shortstop Jason Donald’s groundout at first base that would have been the final out of Galarraga’s bid for perfection [after having retired the previous twenty-six hitters in order to start the game].

The only problem was the lack of such ‘tie’ on the foot race to first between Donald and Galarraga.

Replay’s showed Galarraga visibly stepping directly on first base after receiving the toss from infielder Miguel Cabrera, and clearly ahead of Donald. Despite pleas from Cabrera, the fans and even Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, Donald was awarded a single on the play and Galarraga was robbed of his perfect game. Making matters worse, Galarraga would go on to retire the twenty-eighth hitter in the contest -- essentially completing the always rare 9 1/3 inning ‘perfect game.’

"I took a perfect game away from that kid who pitched a perfect game," Joyce said, acknowledging his epic incorrectness during post-game interviews. Well, at least he’s got something right.

The controversial call is sure to induce an overload of talk radio and ESPN roundtable discussion in its immediate wake. Unfortunately for Joyce, as well as a few other parties, the discussion will inevitably be taken beyond the confines of the game itself -- combining with some other recent developments to create a not-so-perfect storm of controversial coverage for Major League Baseball as a whole.

In the hours following Jim Joyce’s history altering blunder -- one that ultimately cost Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga a place in history as only the twenty-first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw a perfect game -- it’s easy to look at the immediate effect of Joyce’s stunning mistake. However, what’s lost on some due to the understandably emotion-evoking feeling caused by the umpire’s faulty decision making, is the subsequent ripple effect that will make its way around the MLB community.

First and foremost on the list of those impacted by Joyce’s 'safe' call are, of course, the Detroit Tigers. The mental anguish caused by Jason Donald’s alleged infield single is felt beyond Armando Galarraga alone -- whose place in Tigers’ lore was fiendishly stolen from him Wednesday night.

So many times in the past, individual achievements on the field have propelled that player’s team to grander accomplishments down the road.

For instance, of the 105 World Series winners since the inception of the event in 1903, twenty-two were propelled by no-hitters during the course of their title winning seasons (including two instances where that particular team benefited from a pair of no-hitters -- 1916 Boston Red Sox, 1951 New York Yankees). Also, of the eighteen perfect games pitched from 1903-2009, a total of six spawned World Series titles for that pitcher’s respective team (1922, 1956, 1965, 1984, 1998, 1999). In other words, 23% of all no-hitters have resulted in a World Series title for that pitcher‘s team. Similarly, and more importantly in this particular case, 33% of all perfect games have been achieved by teams that would ultimately also go on to win the World Series [through 2009].

With the Tigers fighting for a Central division crown that so many believed to be out of reach entering 2010, Wednesday night’s events can certainly be forecasted as demoralizing for Detroit considering the circumstances. And while similar situations to this haven’t always deflated teams in the past -- Boston recently won the World Series despite Curt Schilling’s no-hit bid being broken with just one out remaining in a 2007 game against Oakland -- the potential negative effect in Motown warrants a certain level of monitoring from here on out given the way it all played out. Never before has a one-hit shutout been met with such animosity by the victorious team.

After all, it’s worth mentioning that Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter for that same 2007 Red Sox Championship team in the months following Schilling’s spoiled June, 7th no-hit bid.

Players are not the only ones who will be forced to deal with the aftermath stemming from Joyce’s poor instinctual decision making on Wednesday. The umpire’s own colleagues -- who have been operating under a microscope, so to speak, in light of the recent flurry of arguably unwarranted ejections around Major League Baseball -- will now find themselves immersed amongst an even greater amount of scrutiny from fans as well as the media.

On Monday, Houston Astros’ ace Roy Oswalt was quickly ejected following an altercation with home plate umpire Bill Hohn. After a close pitch was called a ball in an already laboring inning, Oswalt turned to the first base line and yelled at himself out of frustration. Hohn, who apparently was under the assumption that Oswalt’s outburst was directed at him, removed his mask and screamed instructions for Oswalt to "keep his mouth shut," to which Oswalt replied, "I ain’t talking to you," prompting Hohn’s ejection of the pitcher just over two innings into the game. Since then, Major League Baseball officials have sided with Oswalt regarding the incident and have promised to address Hohn’s actions in a "very stern way."

Normally calm Rays’ manager Joe Maddon has also been tossed recently -- twice. On May 25th against the visiting Red Sox in a crucial series where the Rays would eventually be swept at home, Maddon and star outfielder Carl Crawford were both thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. Their frustrations were understandable for those who watched the game as the strike-zone was all over the place that night -- and mostly in Boston’s favor. While Crawford got his say in with home plate umpire Bob Davidson, Maddon was tossed nearly immediately after surfacing from the dugout. Just days later, Maddon was asked to leave a contest against the Blue Jays after umpire Angel Hernandez ignored a late call for time from Carlos Pena during a Rays rally, resulting in an untimely strikeout in yet another Rays loss.

The league has even gone as far as fining umpires for ‘premature ejections’ in recent weeks.

After a May 26th game between the White Sox and Indians, in which both Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen were tossed by Joe West after a pair of balk calls on Buerhle, West was later fined by Major League Baseball for his role in the incident.

It’s occurrences such as these that have birthed internet sensations like, ‘The Umpire Ejection Fantasy League,’ which is often referenced in jest on ESPN‘s Baseball Tonight. Amusing to some initially, situations such as this are growing increasingly appalling in retrospect following the last few weeks of umpire-related news -- perhaps both highlighted and exemplified by Joyce’s most recent mishap.

 

And yet, the biggest cringe following the replays of Joyce’s missed call may have come from Major League Baseball’s commissioner himself, Bud Selig, and for several notable reasons.

For one, Selig now faces an enormous amount of pressure from some to overrule Joyce’s call and give Galarraga his seemingly deserved perfect game. In an era already clouded with talks of asterisks in relation to historical statistics, Selig is again appointed the toilsome task of policing the MLB’s record books. Not only would Galarraga have become just the twenty-first pitcher to achieve a perfect game, but 2010 would have marked the first year in Major League Baseball history in which three perfect games had been achieved in the same season as one another, much less within the same month [Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay throwing the first two of 2010].

Both are considerably remarkable statistics that should have been recorded, but weren’t. Some fans will blame not only Joyce, but now Selig as well, assuming he refuses to overturn the call (which I, for the record, do not advocate him doing personally).

On top of that, now the always looming but never unanimously agreed upon issue of instant replay’s place in the MLB may return to the forefront of discussions. Selig, who initially instigated the use of instant replay, will now likely be asked to readdress the topic thanks to Wednesday night’s debacle in Detroit.

While the grumblings from fans seemed to dissipate after the introduction of the current limited replay system, which allows umpires to double check only certain questionable calls, those same grumblings will no doubt grow louder thanks to Jim Joyce. Even baseball purists who normally embrace the human element of the game are finding it increasingly difficult to argue their side of things following such a monumental miscue.

Sure, poor officiating is a part of baseball’s post-season history, as is the case in any sport -- a fact that Selig will certainly be reminded of in the near future, but probably not in a fond manner.

Who could forget umpire Larry Barnett’s no-call on Ed Armbrister’s interference of Carlton Fisk during a sacrifice bunt in game three of the 1975 World Series? Armbrister caused Fisk to make a throwing error in the Reds’ eventual 4-3 victory, part of a series that they would ultimately win in the decisive seventh game.

Or how about the first game of the 1996 American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles? With Baltimore leading by a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, Derek Jeter hit a long fly ball to right field that was caught by a young fan named Jeffrey Maier. The 12-year-old Maier reached over the wall onto the field of play and took the ball from Orioles’ outfielder, Tony Tarasco, effectively turning the would be out into a late inning game-tying home run. Thanks to umpire Rich Garcia’s blind eye, the Yankees would go on to win the game in extra innings, and in turn, the series in seven games -- jumpstarting what would become New York’s decade long dynasty.

And then there was perhaps the worst of the playoff blown calls -- a call at first base that is eerily similar to Jim Joyce’s circa Wednesday night. In game six of the 1985 World Series, with the Cardinals just three outs away from the championship against the Kansas City Royals, umpire Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe at first base on a routine ground ball when he, like Donald of the Indians on Wednesday, was clearly out. Kansas City would eventually rally to score two runs, ultimately winning the game, and also the series in game seven.

Jim Joyce may not receive death threats like Denkinger did in ‘85 -- at least we can hope -- but his mistake will more than likely conjure up relations to past instances such as the aforementioned scenarios. With his call deciding such a historically important outcome, there’s little doubt that those who argue for a more comprehensive use of instant replay in baseball will reference the post-season in doing so -- and who can blame them? Not Red Sox, Orioles or Cardinals fans, that’s for certain.

Meanwhile, Jose Canseco is again in the news as he is scheduled to testify in U.S. District Court in Washington on Thursday as a grand jury decides whether or not to indict Roger Clemens for allegedly lying to Congress two years ago. With the steroids issue still looming, the last thing that baseball needs is more controversy. However, that’s exactly what they’ll get as a result of Jim Joyce’s call from Wednesday night.

After all, how does it look to baseball's casual observers -- the ones that Major League Baseball so desperately needs to draw back following one of the darkest times in the sport's history -- when ESPN redirects their coverage and nationally broadcasts Joyce's blunder in front of a live audience? For those already harboring trust issues with the MLB, the recent string of faulty umpiring that was so exemplified by Armando Galarraga's spoiled perfect game cannot do anything but lessen the national appeal of a sport already in such dire need.

At least Armando Galarraga and the rest of the Tigers-faithful can take solace in the fact that they are not alone in their current distain for umpire Jim Joyce. Hell, even some farsighted Indians fans may wish that Joyce would be granted an old fashioned ‘do-over’ after being faced with what’s to come.

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