Of Hens' Teeth and Baseball Deities (guest post)

Perfect games in baseball are as rare as hens' teeth. In all the tens upon tens of thousands of games played in the major leagues during the modern era (beginning 1901), until the start of this season there had been only 16 perfect games. As Wikipedia points out, more people have orbited the Moon than have pitched a perfect game in the majors. Not only must the pitcher allow no hits (a no-hitter itself being a rare event), but he must exercise unusual control, allowing no walks and hitting no batter. And his team must play flawlessly behind him, committing no errors. So when unheralded Armando Galarraga stood on the mound with two out in the ninth inning on Wednesday in Detroit, having retired 26 Cleveland batters in a row, everyone knew that another bit of history was just the breadth of a hen's tooth away. And everyone knows now what happened next. Galarraga got the batter to ground out, the pitcher himself taking the throw at first base to seal the perfect game - except that the first-base umpire inexplicably called the runner safe. Video replays clearly showed that the runner was out.

After the game the umpire tearfully apologized to Galarraga, but the damage had been done. A player who is unlikely ever to make much of a mark on the game has been unjustly deprived of making the ultimate mark. An umpire who has made an honest mistake will be haunted publicly and privately by that mistake for the rest of his life. In retrospect, should the umpire, on consequentialist grounds, knowing that a perfect game was on the line and that the play at first was close, simply have given the pitcher's team the benefit of the doubt and called the runner out, regardless of what he thought his eyes told him? Bizarrely, major-league baseball does not allow the use of video replays during a game to settle disputed calls on such plays. The commissioner of baseball does have it within his power to overturn the fateful decision. With everyone now agreed that an egregious and hurtful mistake was made, should he annul the umpire's decision and restore the perfect game, or should he instead wipe his hands and say, "The rules are the rules; if I make an exception, I open the gates to chaos, with every disputed play past and future up for grabs"?

I said that until the start of this season there had been only 16 perfect games in well over a century - the most recent of those being in July 2009. But on May 9, 2010, Dallas Braden of Oakland threw a perfect game against Tampa Bay. And then, incredibly, just twenty days later, on May 29, Roy Halladay of Philadelphia threw a perfect game against Florida. And then, just four days after that, Armando Galarraga...

Whoa! What's going on here? says God. I run a tight ship. The rules are the rules. They're not called laws of nature for nothing. That includes statistical laws. People like regularity. They need regularity. It makes them feel comfortable. It's bad enough that I let the Halladay one slip by, but, okay, the guy's a star, I'm a generous deity, so I let him keep it. But this Galarraga's a nobody. Three perfect games in less than a month? Is he trying to make a fool of me? I couldn't let it happen - I made sure the first batter in the ninth hit the ball a mile. But then that outfielder ran it down and made an amazing over-the-shoulder catch. (Who does he think he is: Willie Mays?) So that was it for me. No more Mister Nice God. I decided to take a page from the Descartes playbook and do an Evil Genius number on the first-base ump. I made him clearly and distinctly perceive the runner to be safe at first, even though he wasn't. But, hey, what choice did I have? Even God has a duty to respect the law.

1 comment:

Faust said...

Commissioner should overturn. Baseball needs to join modern times.

How does chaos ensue if we start basing calls on empirical evidence. Somehow the other sports have managed to survive...