By Benjamin Custer
Texarkana Gazette (Published May 2011)
After consecutively retiring 26 batters on 82 pitches June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers starter Armando Galarraga found himself one out shy of hurling the 21st perfect game in MLB history.
The next swing of the bat, however, wasn’t met by the final out and a celebratory congregation on the mound. It was met by a fateful botched call by umpire Jim Joyce.
Sports fans across the nation screamed at their televisions as replay after replay showed the throw beating the runner to first. Unfortunately, Joyce had no such luxury until after the game had ended.
“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said following the Tigers’ 3-0 win. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”
Repeated umpire blunders of all sorts continue to raise the question of whether the game with a historical human element is in dire need of a technological update. Frankly, missed calls are getting as old as the men Anna Nicole Smith used to go after.
Officiating mistakes not only affect individual statistics but also can influence the outcome of a game or a team’s placement in the standings.
MLB implemented a monumental change to the game in 2008, allowing instant replay to be used on questionable home-run calls—that is, to determine whether the ball was hit fair or foul. Since then, instant replay has been used 123 times and has resulted in 48 overturned calls, according to MLB records.
In a sport often decided by three runs or less, it’s horrifying to picture umpires flubbing close home-run calls nearly 40 percent of the time if not for the support of replay. Imagine how much more accurate the outcomes would be if the technology applied to all facets of the sport.
After reviewing broadcast footage of more than 180 games last year, an analysis from ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” showed an average of 1.3 calls per nine innings were close enough to warrant the use of instant replay. The study also showed that umpires misjudged one out of every five close calls.
If we are going to allow professional baseball to continue to be a game of chance, MLB should consider exonerating Pete Rose of his gambling charges.
Instant replay opponents argue that consulting the technology would take several minutes per use. Isn’t that about how long it takes umpires to huddle up and make decisions on close calls anyway? With an average of 1.3 questionable circumstances per game, instant replay would pose little threat to lengthening the time spent at the ballpark. What are a few extra minutes anyway if a guy gets to keep a well-deserved perfect game?
The time has come for MLB to authorize the complete use of instant replay. Until then, the fates of teams and players lamentably hang in the balance of the human element.