Better than perfect

In the midst of occasional blogging here on generational issues, I’ve been sort-of moonlighting with some baseball blogging. Here’s my shameless plug take on Wednesday’s would-be perfect game by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga:

Better than perfect

The actions of Armando Galarraga, of umpire Jim Joyce, of manager Jim Leyland, even of baserunner Jason Donald have provided us with sorely needed examples of grace and class in these insolent times. That’s what they gave us rather than a perfect game. That’s what we need as a society right now. That’s better than perfect.

Or read the full post here:…

I’ve been amazed by most of the Internet commentary on Armando Galarraga’s would-be perfect game last night. It’s largely been devoid of nastiness, though there has been some, which makes me wonder if we don’t need a dose of decorum and class in this country more than we need video replay, but I digress.

Fortunately, the actions of Armando Galarraga, of Jim Joyce, of Jim Leyland, even of Jason Donald have provided us with sorely needed examples of grace and class in these insolent times. That’s what Armando Galarraga (and Joyce, and Leyland, and indeed even Donald) gave us rather than a perfect game. That’s what we need as a society right now. That’s better than perfect.

One of the more frequent arguments I read regarding the possibility of Bud Selig retroactively calling Donald out and awarding Galarraga the perfect game was that it would be the right thing to do (define “right thing” in an inherently unfair world) and it would make everyone happy (it would? since when is anything but the pursuit of that guaranteed in life, in baseball, or in the Declaration of Independence?).

Baseball is like life, and that’s why we love it so. Baseball has such a hold on America because it reflects American life. Otherwise, it’s football, and God forbid if that sport accurately reflects Us. It’s like a great lover that drives us crazy but we can’t quite quit.

It’s not tidy or neat. It’s frequently disappointing with all-too-few moments of unbridled joy. As the after-events of yesterday showed, it can also be surprisingly filled with moments of grace and class. If you’re invested passionately enough, it’s supremely rewarding, even with all its ups and downs. Yes, it is occasionally perfect. But it does not exist in a perfect world.

While there are ways to legitimately make things right after a wrong has occurred, that doesn’t happen by changing the past, only by making amends as best as possible in the present and living on through to the future.

As former Major League catcher and blogger extraordinaire Brent Mayne put it: “For me, that’s life. And for me, that’s baseball. Things are rarely perfect in either one. Things are messy, people make mistakes, it’s unfair, it’s fair, it’s line outs and fans reaching over the fence to rob you of a homer. It’s the wind blowing just at the right moment to help your ball stay fair. It’s unpredictable and I like it like that.”

Another argument frequently promoted over the last 24 hours is that overruling the umpire’s call and awarding Galarraga a perfect game wouldn’t change the outcome (the Tigers still won, 3-0, as the next Indians batter made the final out), so why not do it? What’s the harm? That conclusion is incorrect, though. That would change the outcome. It would become a perfect game. If it didn’t change the outcome, then why such reasoned and passionate debate about it? Why would we care otherwise?

(And please, Michigan lawmakers and Governor Granholm, leave on-field baseball issues to Major League Baseball. Your state is near the tops in unemployment and the recession has hit Michigan hard. Don’t you think you have other, more important things to do?)

So, video replay is next, so the masses clamor? I’m 37, and I’m hardly an old fuddy duddy (or maybe I am, and won’t admit it). But with the powers that be in Major League Baseball still in power, the last thing I want to see is video replay on calls at first base — what’s next? Video replay on balls and strikes? Every game taking as long as the Yankees-Red Sox marathons? A pitch-clock timer like the SEC used in its college tournament? EA Sports-like avatars playing and officiating? Or simply having the umpires ditch their integrity for the sake of just giving it to the guy, as ESPN new-media juggernaut Bill Simmons tweeted?

Hey, we still may need instant replay for calls like this — I’m not entirely opposed to it, but I certainly don’t like it, and even Galarraga, the morning after, came out against instant replay: “Baseball is a slow game, they start doing that kind of stuff, it will make it more slow. It’s hard, really hard. I don’t agree too much with that. … We’re human, we go make a mistake, nobody is perfect. In that situation everybody is focused to do their best thing.”

What gives anyone the confidence that MLB would implement this correctly anyway? First off, there’s no center ice booth like in hockey where the referee (in hockey’s case) can call up to the league office from that black old-school phone that he receives through that Pringles-can-sized hole in the glass on questionable scoring decisions? And (hockey guys, correct me if I’m wrong) they only review scoring plays in hockey, which is somewhat similar to baseball’s current practice of reviewing scoring home run calls, yes? And don’t give me this they-do-replay-in-football argument, either. How many more breaks in action do we need in baseball? How much actual action is there in a three-hour-plus NFL game? About 11 minutes, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal.

The entire umpire crew already leaves the field to review a disputed home run call. You want them doing this several times per game?

Still, admittedly, this may be the way the game is going, and it’s near impossible to stem the tide. Perhaps I’m making much ado about nothing over using video replay on close calls on the basepaths, as deadening to the game as that may be (remember, on a home run call, the game has come to more of a stop than on a close play at first, or on a steal at second, or a play at the plate, but what the hell? I’m apparently shouting at the wind here.).

For the record, I’m not entirely opposed to rules changes, even in the face of tradition. Bill James once made a persuasive argument (to my reading, anyway) of limiting the amount of pitching changes a manager can make in each half-inning. James noted that without the shot clock in basketball, how low-scoring and generally terrible basketball would be to watch these days. So sports can survive changes that buck often overly hallowed traditions. But can it survive bowing to mass pressure and making a decision that feels correct, but isn’t?

In the end, perhaps the best comments of all came from Sports Illustrated sportswriter (and former Kansas City Star columnist) Joe Posnanski and from a commenter named “Leucas” on the New York Times Bats blog.

First, Posnanski:

“…But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.

“And when my young daughters ask, ‘Why didn’t he get mad and scream about how he was robbed,’ I think I will tell them this: I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s because Armando Galarraga understands something that is very hard to understand, something we all struggle with, something I hope you learn as you grow older: In the end, nobody’s perfect. We just do the best we can.”

—Joe Posnanski, Joe Posnanski blog, June 2, 2010

And now, Leucas:

“I think we got something better than a perfect game — an example of perfect sportsmanship and stoicism in the face of great disappointment. To me, that’s more stunning than a perfect game would have been.”

—commenter ‘Leucas, NYC,’ June 3, 2010, NY Times Bats Blog

We may all want it to be otherwise (and a stunningly high percentage of people seem to want it so badly that they’d willingly revise history), but America received something better, and more needed, than a perfect game, even if that’s not what we deserved right now.


Originally published at


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