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Instant replay is an imperfect solution for baseball

The Tigers’ Armando Galarraga smiles as he walks away from first base umpire Jim Joyce after losing his perfect game.

Associated Press

The Tigers’ Armando Galarraga smiles as he walks away from first base umpire Jim Joyce after losing his perfect game.

The crusade begins near first base. Presumably with pitchforks and videotape.

This is the natural reaction after Armando Galarraga was denied a place in history by an umpire's blown call in Detroit on Wednesday night. Galarraga got what should have been the final out in what would have been a perfect game, but veteran umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly ruled Jason Donald had beaten the throw to first base for a single.

So the umpire screwed up. Nobody is denying that today. Not even the umpire, who seemed to grasp quickly that a lifetime of work had just been reduced to a single moment of error. The call did not change the outcome of the game. It should not change the outcome of the standings. Yet it may somehow change the direction of baseball's future.

Within minutes of this obvious blunder, there were calls for Major League Baseball to expand its use of instant replay to correct umpires' mistakes. It's the logical next step. The technology exists, so why not use it? Why fight the tide?

Because it will not make the game better.

Look, I understand this is probably not a popular position today. Joyce's call is among the most egregious mistakes ever seen in the regular season. And umpires were already having a rough couple of weeks all around baseball.

So would instant replay correct a lot of those mistakes? Of course it would. Would it enforce a greater sense of fair play? I suppose. Might it have an impact on a pennant race or a World Series? I'm sure at some point it would.

But I say this again: It will not make the game better.

Questioning the calls of umpires is as much a part of baseball as second-guessing the decisions of managers. Or cursing the first baseman who let a ball roll between his legs. Take that away and you take away a little more of the game's humanity. Of its emotion.

Joyce's call Wednesday night was unfortunate, but it will go down as one of the most memorable moments for a generation of fans. It was theater come to life. I've already forgotten the specifics of Roy Halladay's perfect game, but I will never forget Galarraga's imperfect one.

It was sports at its finest. The anticipation, the exhilaration and the letdown. All within 10 seconds.

And the story got only better from there. Did you see Galarraga's reaction? It was among the most graceful moments on a ballfield that I've witnessed.

After getting the throw and stepping on first, he turned toward Joyce with his glove raised in triumph. He began to move toward first baseman Miguel Cabrera for a hug before turning back to Joyce to see the safe call. And for a split second, Galarraga stood stunned.

Then came the most amazing sight of all:

Galarraga did not scream. He did not wince. He did not whirl in disgust. He simply grinned at Joyce.

And in that instant, he made you forget about million-dollar contracts, payroll disparity and bond issues for stadiums. In that moment, he made you wish you had an Armando Galarraga baseball card tucked away in your attic because he was one of your new favorite players. As St. Petersburg Times writer Tom Jones said, Galarraga's reaction told you more about him than a perfect game ever could.

As the night moved on, we discovered that a distraught Joyce had sought out Galarraga in the clubhouse to offer a tearful apology. And we heard Galarraga say he was so grateful and touched by Joyce's apology that he offered the umpire a hug.

That's what you want to get rid of? That's what you want to trade for a shot of a group of umpires huddled around a television and then walking back on the field five minutes later to announce a perfect game had just been thrown?

I'm not against technology. I love my computer. I love my HD television. I would really love my iPod if I could find it. But more technology is not always the answer. AstroTurf? Domes? Steroids? I'm not sure they made baseball a better game.

And though instant replay may make it a more precise game, I don't think baseball would be better for it. These kinds of history-changing mistakes come along only occasionally, and they are as much a part of the game's lore as a walkoff home run.

Richie Garcia. Don Denkinger. Larry Barnett. Ken Burkhart. You need only hear an umpire's name to take you back to another place and time.

For some, it is a heartbreaking memory. But that's part of the game, too.

The one thing baseball has in its favor is that it is essentially the same game today that it was in 1950. In some ways, the same game it was in 1920. It has been tinkered with. It has been tweaked. But it has a history that few sports can match.

Mistakes have been a part of this game for more than 100 years. Legislating them away would not be progress.

It would be a setback.

Instant replay is an imperfect solution for baseball 06/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 8:02am]
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