Won't Overrule Umpire
Who Admitted His Error
It is rare for us to depart from the precincts of public policy to comment on an area in which we have no particular expertise.
Yet this is a moment where we can learn from a recent event in major league baseball which raises basic issues of common sense and simple justice.
In the June 2 game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit pitcher, Armando Galarraga retired the first 26 batters he faced. The 27th hit a grounder to the infield, which the second baseman stopped, throwing the runner out while the pitcher covered first base. The first base umpire, however, miscalled the play, ruling the runner safe, thus spoiling the perfect game and the no-hitter Galarraga had thrown. Oddly, this would have been only the 21st perfect game in major league history, but already the third this year, which is only one-third over.
Upon viewing a TV replay, the contrite umpire readily agreed that he had blown the call. His error was an unusual but unavoidable part of baseball. People make mistakes. Umpires, who are human beings, after all, can make hundreds of decisions in the course of a game. Baseball players, even good fielders, make occasional errors. So do the people who judge the game.
There is no persuasive reason, however, for such an error to remain uncorrected when it is proven beyond doubt that an umpire's call was mistaken, and the outcome of the game, if he had ruled properly, would have been clear.
A situation like this is one reason major league baseball has a commissioner. There is an impartial higher authority who can decide such questions on the merits, hopefully in what is described as "the best interests of the game".
This does not mean that every call will be subject to review by the Commissioner, even when it is proven to be erroneous. But when such a rarity as a perfect game is involved, and a player has clearly achieved it, his accomplishment should not be nullified by an umpire's admitted mistake.
The press has commented on this unusual situation, recommending that the umpire's oversight be corrected by the Commissioner. This can be done at no expense, and would prevent an understandable, momentary error from becoming a perpetual injustice. Ironically, steroid-laced Barry Bonds remains the all-time home run champion, while an honest young pitcher who threw a perfect game is denied the honor he earned on the field.
We link here [Wall Street Journal], here [Daily News], here [Times], and here [ESPN] to editorials on the subject. If you want to see the disputed play for yourself, modern technology enables you to view it, as often as you like, by clicking here. Baseball can be a compelling sport to watch, or even to play if you can. For many of us seniors, it remains the national pastime. That is why people are concerned about fairness and justice in baseball as well as in politics.