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Almost Perfect: Why Baseball Needs Instant Replay

Submitted by on June 3, 2010 – 7:50 am3 Comments

The 2010 baseball season has had some brilliant performances by pitchers. Ubaldo Jimenez is off to an incredible start with a 10-1 record and a ridiculous ERA of 0.78. But the most astounding thing this season has been the anomaly known as the “perfect game.”

What’s a perfect game, you ask?

Author Paul Dickson in the New Baseball Dictionary defines it as “A no-hitter in which no opposing player reaches first base, either by a base hit, base on balls, hit batter, or fielding error; i.e., the pitcher or pitchers retire all twenty-seven opposing batters in order.”

In short, a batter must face the minimum of 27 batters and get all of them out. No walks and no errors. He must be completely perfect. How rare is the feat? Prior to the 2010 MLB season, only 18 perfect games have been pitched. This dates back to Lee Richmond‘s perfect game back in 1880. 120 years. 162 baseball games played per team. 2430 games played in a season. 18 perfect games. You do the math.

Which brings us to the 2010 season and what makes it so special. We’re almost a third into the season and there have already been two perfect games. The Oakland Athletics’ Dallas Braden tossed the gem on May 9 against the Tampa Bay Rays and twenty days later the Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay threw a perfect game against the Florida Marlins. This is the first time since 1880 that two players pitched a perfect game in the same season.

On June 2, the surreal almost took place. Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was whizzing through the Cleveland Indians as if they were nothing. Batter by batter, Galarraga sent them back to the dugout as his team was up 3-0. The third perfect game pitched in less than a month was becoming a realization, as Galarraga got Russell Branyan to ground out to close the 8th inning. The crowd of 17,738 Detroit Tigers fans inside of Comerica Park were all on their feet as they were prepared to witness something Tigers fans have never seen before. Only three outs away from immortality. The three batters to face Galarraga were Mark Grudzielanek, Mark Redmond and Jason Donald.

On the first pitch of the 9th inning, Grudzielanek sent a shot flying toward center field. With what looked to be the hit that would break up perfection, Tigers CF Austin Jackson ran down the ball and did his best Willie Mays impersonation as he snagged the ball over his left shoulder to get the first out. The entire city of Detroit breathed a sigh of relief.

1 Out.

Mark Redmond grounded out to the shortstop and now the Tigers fans could literally taste the first perfect game in their 116 year history.

2 Outs.

All Galarraga had to do was get past Jason Donald. Not a difficult task as Donald is certainly no Albert Pujols. On a 1-1 pitch, Donald hit a soft tapper to first base. Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded the ball cleanly as Galarraga broke to cover the bag as Cabrera tossed the ball to his pitcher and seemingly got Donald out.

It looked like this…

Galarraga pumped his fist in victory as the Detroit fans erupted in jubilation. The Detroit Tigers seemingly made history as Galarraga gets the Tigers their first perfect game and a historical third perfect game pitched by MLB pitchers in one season.

But then it happened…

Veteran umpire Jim Joyce emphatically made a safe call as the entire stadium fell silent. Safe? Safe??? As you can see in the images above, Donald was out by nearly a foot. It’s a routine call that 99.9% of umpires get right. But Joyce somehow got it wrong. Boos cascaded throughout the stadium. Galarraga could have went apesh*t, but instead just smiled and went back to work. He would get the next batter out as he ended up with a 1-hitter. It was the saddest shutout victory in the baseball season thus far—perhaps ever.

If there’s a reason baseball should institute the instant replay, this would be it. In every other sport, instant replay is used to judge close calls. In football it could be the difference between a touchdown and a fourth down. In basketball it can change a game winning shot to a shot that went up too late. In hockey it can change a goal to a save. The list goes on and on. But somehow the MLB hasn’t figured out the instant replay is needed in order to prevent botched calls like these that robbed a young man from immortality.

Joyce even knew he blew the call, issuing a statement saying he cost the young man a perfect game. What more needs to be said?

I’m not asking for instant replay to be used for every debatable strike or close play. What I am asking is that a system close to the NFL’s challenge system be put in place. Each coach can challenge one call—foul or fair balls, close plays at a base, catches vs trapped balls—and that is it. If there is a highly disputable play that comes late in the game, umpires can call for their own replay in order to get the call right. If this was implemented, Joyce would certainly have used it. After all, who wants to be known as the umpire that ruined a moment in history.

Instant replay is a must, plain in simple. Care to dispute this claim?

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