Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Worst Call In History, And How It Could Help The Rockies

Jim Joyce made the worst call in sports history last night. For the rest of our lives, we will see Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers getting Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians out to complete the 27th and final out of a perfect game. And we will see umpire Jim Joyce rule Donald safe when Donald was CLEARLY out, making the absolute worst call in baseball history.

The play unfolded as follows: 26 up, 26 down, and Galarraga makes a 1-1 pitch to Donald that Donald slaps to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Galarraga races to first, has his foot on the first base bag, and the throw from Cabrera CLEARLY beats Donald yet Joyce calls Donald safe, totally blowing the call.

25 years ago, the SAME THING happened in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. With nobody out in the top of the 9th inning and the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Kansas City Royals 1-0 (and leading the series 3-2), the Royals' Jorge Orta grounds to Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark, who tosses to Cardinals pitcher Todd Worrell covering first. Although Orta was clearly out, umpire Don Denkinger ruled him safe. Of course, Orta eventually scored, the Royals won the game 2-1, and their blowout in Game 7 gave them the World Series title. Until last night, THIS was the call that was considered the worst call in history. AND IT DIDN'T EVEN DEFINITIVELY CHANGE THE OUTCOME OF THE GAME!!! Orta would have been the first out, but the Royals STILL could have scored those runs! Similarly, the Cardinals had a chance to win the World Series in Game 7, and they got blown out. So the oft-repeated statement that Denkinger's blown call "cost the Cardinals a World Series" is factually untrue.

But it is factually true that Jim Joyce's blown call cost Armando Galarraga the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Of course Galarraga maintained his composure and got the 28th out, so the OUTCOME of the game (a 3-0 Tigers victory) was not changed. But whether history views the game as a perfect game for Galarraga or as a 1-hit shutout hinges on Jim Joyce's ability to get a simple call right.

And this morning, the Sturm und Drang has begun for Major League Baseball Commissioner to overturn Joyce's blown call and award Galarraga with the perfect game that he rightly owned. People argue that, because the blown call occurred on the 27th out and definitively, absolutely nothing else could have occurred after the call to ruin Galarraga's perfect game - as opposed to if the call had occurred in the 6th inning - this is an opportunity for Selig to right a very specific and correctable wrong.

Well if that happens, the Colorado Rockies should have their April 18 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves erased and replaced with a 3-2 victory. Here's the situation:

With 26 outs completed (2 outs in the bottom of the ninth) and Braves runners on first and second, Braves first baseman Troy Glaus grounds to Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who flips to Rockies pitcher Franklin Morales covering first. Even though the throw beat Glaus, first base umpire Jeff Nelson made the exact same mistake that Denkinger made in 1985 and that Joyce made last night - he ruled the baserunner safe on a play at first where the first basemen fielded the ball and the pitcher covered. Think Glaus wasn't safe? Look at these pictures of the play:

There is no discussion. When that baseball rested in Franklin Morales's glove and Troy Glaus's foot was NOT yet on the base, the 27th out had been achieved and the ballgame was over. Only umpire Jeff Nelson ruled Glaus safe, and Morales subsequently imploded and eventually allowed a game-winning hit to Braves star Jayson Heyward.

So far, there is one difference. Jim Joyce was humble, admitted his mistake, and apologized to Armando Galarraga. However, we have not heard from Jeff Nelson. No admission of a bad call in the face of visual evidence to the contrary; no humble apology for an incorrect call that absolutely cost a team a victory, in this case the Rockies. And in a tight NL West race, what happens if the Rockies miss the playoffs by a single game? And that single game is the April 18 game where the Rockies achieved the 27th out with a 3-2 lead, but umpire Jeff Nelson, as Jim Joyce would say, "kicked the shit" out of the call...

So if Bud Selig decides, as many are clamoring for, to overturn Jim Joyce's egregious call and award Armando Galarraga with a perfect game because the umpiring error occurred on the 27th out and is "correctable," then the same ABSOLUTELY thing must happen with regards to the Colorado Rockies-Atlanta Braves game on April 18 of this year.

Overturning poor umpiring calls post-facto starts baseball on a slippery slope, and is very unlikely to happen, even in the Jim Joyce situation. But if it does...