Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers is one out from a perfect game. Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians hits a fly ball, high and deep, right down the line. The umpire signals home run. The perfect game is lost.
Or not. The ball was so close to the foul pole that the umpires decide to review the play. The video makes clear the ball was foul. The perfect game is not lost.
In this alternate universe, there is baseball justice. There is no justice in what happened to Galarraga in Detroit on Wednesday.
He is one out from a perfect game. Donald hits a ground ball to the first baseman, with Galarraga racing to catch the throw and beating Donald to the bag. The umpire signals safe. The perfect game is lost.
The video makes clear Donald was out. Yet there is no review, no check of the video, no perfect game.
Pandora bit back, and hard. Commissioner Bud Selig insisted limited instant replay was the way to go, that he could restrict reviews to these three questions: Was that home run fair or foul? Did the ball actually clear the fence? Did a fan interfere with a ball in play?
That leads to this fourth question: Is it fair that Galarraga lost his perfect game because some plays can be reviewed but others cannot?
Don’t blame Jim Joyce, the umpire. He did what Selig should have allowed him to do. He checked the replay.
“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce told reporters.
This is not a good day to be Bud Selig, but it is a day he could see coming. It’s Groundhog Day, really. He faced the issue last October, just about every day, in a dramatic postseason too often overshadowed by a cavalcade of umpire errors.
That baseball embraces the human element is charming, in a retro sort of way, sort of like live ballpark organists and manually operated scoreboards. If baseball still refused to use instant replay whatsoever, there might be sympathy for Galarraga, without the outrage directed toward Selig.
But here we are again, back where we were last fall, with the commissioner on the defensive again, trying to explain why nationally televised blunders should not be corrected.
“I think you can overreact to situations,” Selig told the Los Angeles Times last fall. “It isn’t change I’m afraid of. I’m not sure that would contribute to the improvement of the sport.”
Not every replay is conclusive. The more angles that umpires need to review a play, the longer the review takes. Selig is wary of pitchers standing around during endless reviews, concerned that too many replays might slow down the game he has worked hard to speed up.
Selig is not alone in that viewpoint. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Manager Mike Scioscia, a witness to several blown calls in the playoffs last year, said that he would not support broad use of instant replay, at least broad enough for Joyce to have corrected his call.
“I think there are too many plays that are close that could possibly be up for review, and I think it would be dysfunctional if you put it in there any more than it is,” Scioscia said. “On a limited basis, it has value. I’d like it to be expanded with things like trapped balls and ground-rule doubles, but I don’t think it would work on the bases.
“The way it is now, to use instant replay on a limited basis, is a positive. To go beyond that, I don’t see that as a positive.”
Selig has left the door ajar for expanded replay. The pressure against that door might never be greater, the cries might never be louder.
It might have looked absurd for Galarraga and the Tigers to stand on the field while the play was under review, waiting around for a few minutes, unsure whether to explode into celebration.
We’ll take absurd over unjust any day.