Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of boring sports -- and the record books are already stuck with syringes
Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga (58) covers first base as Cleveland Indians' Jason Donald, right, runs to the base and umpire Jim Joyce looks on in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit Wednesday, June 2, 2010. Joyce called Donald safe and Galarraga lost his bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning on the disputed call at first base. Detroit won 3-0. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Credit: Associated Press)
Allow me to cram on my sportswriter cliché hat: Immediately after Armando Galarraga stepped on the bag, umpire Jim Joyce stepped on Armando’s heart, and on the hearts of baseball fans around the world. Joyce delivered an awful call so incongruous, its brazen-moment deflation was almost admirable. The crowd was on the cusp of a joyous explosion and Joyce insisted on making them miserable. Like watching a priest spit on the marriage vows, right before the “I dos.” Jim Joyce, the grinch who stole Pitchmas.
And, do you smell that? It’s the scent of a worked-up baseball pundit, shvitzing-up his Old Spice. Because there are so many angles to this story and none of them overlap with steroids. Galarraga’s loss is our rhetorical gain, and an opportunity for baseball to improve.
America’s quasi-pastime has been immersed in a love affair with its own stodginess, since the days of Babe Ruth’s drunken glory. When an institution worships tradition, it inevitably leads to Talmudic arguments about what is and is not traditional. Is it OK to reverse a faulty umpire edict as a means of giving us the momentary pleasure of seeing a player reach a somewhat arbitrary statistical goal? I say yes, but then again I’m not in the Joe Morgan camp. I loved “Moneyball” and I’m all for creating the position of “offensive safety,” a leviathan who would knock outfielders toward oblivion during pop flies. I say bring on tacky progress, and let’s Photoshop a pink aluminum bat onto the Honus Wagner card while we’re at it. I’m half-kidding.
We’re getting dragged through the hand-wringing wringer. Here are the concerns:
- Oh no, we’re about to have another perfect game! This statistical feat will be cheapened!
- A perfect game is ruined! This is worse than seeing a 1989 photo of Jose Canseco injecting HGH into Cal Ripken Jr.’s buttocks!
- Yes, the game was ruined, but what if baseball defaces its integrity by reversing the bad call? We’ll all have to become rugby fans!
We’ll survive a decision revision. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of boring sports, and the record books have been stuck with syringes anyhow. We should a) reverse an obviously bad call, and b) use instant replay to prevent future bad calls. There’s nothing wrong with using an extreme example to foment sensible policy. Such a process is as old as tradition itself.