Martin Espada on the Worst Call in Baseball History

Martin Espada on the Worst Call in Baseball History

Martin Espada on the Worst Call in Baseball History

That most exotic of baseball specimens—the perfect game—was yanked away from Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga by first base umpire Jim Joyce. As if the city of Detroit hasn’t suffered enough!


It’s not the oil spill in the gulf and it’s not the ongoing crisis in Haiti but on Wednesday night in Detroit, we had an injustice so glaringly obvious and so preventable, it could drive a good man—or woman—to drink.

That most exotic of baseball specimens—the perfect game—was yanked away from Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga by first base umpire Jim Joyce on what should have been the 27th out. As if the city of Detroit hasn’t suffered enough. This would have been only the 21st perfect game in Major League history. Instead it will be recalled only in the annals of infamy.

If I could, I’d like to turn over much of the rest of this column to my friend Martin Espada. Martin is a renowned poet who wrote the 1996 American Book Award winning collection Imagine the Angels of Bread. But he’s also my go-to guy on matters related to boxing and baseball. On these subjects, like with his poetry, Espada takes no prisoners. Here is his take. I found his anger to be very cathartic and hopefully you will as well.

“The new technology of television has exposed the umpires for what they are: overpaid security guards insulated from their own incompetence, petty authoritarians who are too slow and lazy to keep up with the game at the major league level, buffoons who confuse stubborn ineptitude with integrity.

“I’ve watched that replay a hundred times. Jim Joyce imploded. He couldn’t handle the pressure of the moment. If the pitcher had dropped the ball, or the first baseman had thrown the ball away, then we would all be saying: he choked; the pressure got to him.

Well, Jim Joyce froze. He panicked. He choked. Umpires choke too. Yet, as officials who govern the game on the field, they must be held to a much higher standard. Any umpire who would freeze or panic on a play like that should not be allowed on the field.

“This might have been the worst call I’ve ever seen, from the standpoint of 1) the difficulty of the call (an easy call, not even close), 2) the line of sight for the call (absolutely unobstructed) and 3) the magnitude of the call (the last out of a perfect game, for Christ’s sake).

“Joyce, however, was absolutely convinced he was right. Incredibly, he believed that the runner beat the throw, and no one could tell him otherwise. His arrogance, his hubris–so typical of umpires today–led to his downfall. He was so intent on being The Umpire–calling it as he sees it–that he never saw it. Once he saw the replay, mind you, he was ‘distraught,’ and indeed his reaction has provoked an outpouring of sympathy. Spare me. At the moment of truth, he floundered like a walrus on an iceberg. Imagine what he cost this kid pitcher: not only a perfect game, but millions of dollars in earning potential washed away. He robbed this pitcher, Detroit, Venezuela, baseball and history.

“This butchered call makes the case for instant replay like Clarence Darrow made the case for evolution at the Scopes Monkey Trial. What will Selig do? Nothing. He is an iguana who walks like a man, the pet lizard of the owners. …..If we can’t have justice out there in wider world, can we at least have justice in the games we play?”

Martin is right and I would add just one other point: The main argument against instant replay, made by Selig and his prize fighters in the press, is that the holy innocence of the game would be compromised if a machine was introduced into the equation… even if this new fangled invention, instant replay, has been around for four decades.

What hypocrisy from Selig, a man who has treated the traditions of the game like so much toilet paper. This is the same commissioner who brought inter-league play and the wild card to the sport. This is the same commissioner who has overseen s process where more than 70% of parks have been built in the last 20 years with tax dollars and ticket prices that price out working class fans. This is the same commissioner who has had to face zero accountability for what will always be known as “the steroid era.” And lest we forget, this is a commissioner who is tried to sell ad space on second base for Spider-man 2 until a fan rebellion forced him to back off.

It would be a terrible irony if Jim Joyce resigns and Selig remains gainfully employed.  Baseball, like a fish, rots from the head. And Selig’s smell seems to worsen by the day.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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