Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Matter of Integrity

I wasn't going to bother giving my two cents on last week's baseball umpiring controversy, but since an old friend—a latecomer who's become a baseball fan in his 40s—asked me over the weekend, I thought I'd write something about it.

Even if you're not a fan, you probably heard that a missed call by umpire Jim Joyce cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game last Wednesday. In a post-game press conference, Joyce admitted that he had blown the call, he and Galarraga appear to be at peace with each other, and commissioner Bud Selig has vowed to look at expanded use of instant replay in Major League Baseball.

For the record, I'm in favor of the latter, but only if they use it to actually get calls right, unlike the one that referees blatantly failed to overturn late in Sunday night's NBA Finals Game 2. But, instant replay is not what this post is about.

It's about the high level of integrity displayed by Joyce for not making an out call based on the fact that the pitcher was one out from a perfect game. His job is not to take the circumstances into consideration. It’s to make a call based on what he sees—in this case, safe or out. He was wrong, and he admitted it. It was a bad call, and it’s unfortunate that it happened under such circumstances. But, he’s human, and the rest of us should be happy that our mistakes don’t get the exposure that his did. All those folks calling for him to call that runner out simply because he should give the pitcher the benefit of the doubt in that situation simply don't have the integrity that Joyce does.

Another perfect game was lost under somewhat similar circumstances in 1972. One strike away from immortality, Chicago Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas walked San Diego Padres pinch-hitter Larry Stahl on a 3-2 pitch. Home plate umpire Bruce Froemming called the pitch a ball, and Pappas agrees with him that it was outside, but still contends that Froemming should have given him the call, and unbelievably still blames the umpire for the fact that he's only credited with a no-hitter and not a perfect game.

Pappas, of course, doesn't own a fraction of the integrity that Froemming and Joyce do, and that became clearer in the days since Galarraga's near perfect gem, when he once again used the media exposure to complain about something that happened 38 years ago. At least, judging by his in-the-moment and post-game reactions, we can be pretty certain that Galarraga's not going to take this one to the grave like it appears Pappas will. That's probably because he simply has more integrity than his older counterpart.

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