I’m pretty sure that everyone who grew up playing baseball has been supremely jobbed by an ump at least once in his life. I was standing on second base at Krank Park in Albany when the 1989 county little league championship game ended. My West Albany Little League lost 1-0 to City American Little League after Josh Myrtle struck out with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Two pitches earlier, I had scored the winning run when Josh sent a no-doubter high down the left field line and into the south-side night.I was halfway between 3rd and home, trotting with my hands in the air, before I realized they were sending me back to second. Foul ball, my ass. That thing was fair by 20 feet. And everyone in the park knew it. Even the ump. But he didn’t change his call. And Krank Park still doesn’t have tall enough foul poles. Years later, when we were playing Babe Ruth, Josh was still bitter. “That was my last little league at-bat. That fucker ended my childhood.”
Fast forward to last night. Five thoughts, in no particular order:
1. There is no question in my mind that perfect-game attempts are the most exciting thing that one can randomly happen upon when you’re sitting around watching otherwise-meaningless regular-season sports. Normally, I might choose a Golden Girls rerun over having to watch every pitch of a A’s-Rays game, but make it a perfect game in the 7th inning and I’ll be afraid to go the bathroom. And the Internet / cable TV revolution has made it so much more likely that you’ll be able to get to the game live. I’ve seen all three this month, and it’s been great.
2. My friend JD asked me, “Is this the most “tragic” thing to ever happen on a major league baseball field?” It’s pretty damn close. If you exclude serious injury/death (Chapman, Conigliaro, etc.), playoff anti-heroics (1985 game 6 botched call), and death due to playoff anti-heroics (Donnie Moore’s suicide), then yeah, it’s got to be right up there. I’m nearly certain that it’s the most tragic missed-call ever in a meaningless regular-season game. Even if an official scorer ruled an obvious hit an error on the last day of the season, and that dropped someone to .399 or cut short a would-have-been 57-game hitting streak, I don’t think it would be this bad.
3. How much will this stand out in our minds 30 years from now? Will we remember Galarraga’s name? Will we remember Joyce’s? I’m don’t know. Someone has already tried to convince me that kids born next year will think of Galarraga they way guys my age think of Harvey Haddix. I’m not so sure. I agree that Galarraga’s game will be remembered far more than Braden’s or Halladay’s. But Haddix’s feat is still above and beyond more remarkable, by an order of magnitude. And his story has the added sad-sack factor that he ended up taking the loss. Furthermore, botched calls are not the stuff of legend the way homers or errors or other on-field actions are. Even the jobbing St. Louis took in the 1985 world series is not particularly memorable nowadays, at least in comparison to Buckner’s error or Henderson’s homer a year later. Same thing with the non-interference call in the ’75 World Series. Nine out of ten guys who follow baseball can tell you about Fisk’s homer in game 6, but how many can recount Fisk screaming his lungs out at Larry Barnett after Armbrister’s bunt/interference in game 3? Probably the most memorable comparable umpire ruling of my life time is the Pine Tar Game, but that had two huge things going for it — a superstar (Brett) at the center of the controversy, and the fact that he came storming out of the dugout to literally kill Tim McClellan. Those two things gave that game huge cache, and a killer highlight clip. I’m not sure last night has that, although if Galarraga or Cabrerra had physically gone after Joyce, well, game, set, match.
4. I feel bad for Joyce. I recently read As They See ‘Em, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for how seriously and professionally these guys take their jobs. There is no way that Joyce slept even a minute last night, and it wouldn’t shock me if he ends up taking a leave of absence for a period of time.
5. What is the probability of three perfect-games being pitched in one month? My super-back-of-the-envelope calculation would be this: an average of 24 teams playing an average of 158 games would mean approximately 205,128 games since 1900, not including this season. There were 16 perfect games during that span, meaning one every 12,820 games. In May 2010, you have roughly 375 major league games, meaning (again, only doing the top-row math) the odds of one perfect game in a given month in 2010 was something like 1 in 35. So the probability of three was approximately 1 in 42,875. I do wonder if there is some weak non-independence to all this. Recall that right after Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, a whole bunch of other guys did it, as if the confidence of knowing it could be done helped them to do it. Baseball is certainly different than running, but I wonder if there’s a marginal, viral confidence effect when you are in the 8th inning of a perfect game if you know two guys have already done it this month.