Letter to Bud Selig On “The Worst Umpire Call Since the 1850s”

Dear Mr. Selig:

Now that you have had over a month to absorb and digest the reactions to what a sports writer called the worst umpire call since the 1850s, it is time for you to respect the vast majority of the fans, players and coaches who either believe that umpire Jim Joyce’s call should be reversed as false or who have no objection to such a ruling.

Let’s review the situation. The video clearly shows that Armando Gallarraga of the Detroit Tigers received the throw on a grounder for the last out in the ninth inning before the batter reached the base. Umpire Jim Joyce recognized, to his everlasting credit, in many ways his clear error. His best sentence was “I took a perfect game away from that kid.”

Baseball’s Rule 9.02(a) states that teams cannot question an umpire’s judgment. Rule 9.02(c) states that “no umpire shall criticize, seek to reverse or interfere with another umpire’s decision unless asked to do so by the umpire masking it.” Umpire Joyce was immediately visited by two other umpires and an angry manager Jim Leyland right after the call. Mr. Joyce did not avail himself of the rule and, despite the crowd’s and players’ adverse reaction did not concede until he saw the video. As every fan knows, umpires do ask each other to check the call if another umpire has a better view such as after a batter’s checked swing.

At this juncture, some commentators said that baseball is an imperfect game and imperfect umpiring is part of that characterization. Beg to differ. Only the players are the game. The umpires are ruling on the game from the outside.

Electronic distant replay is already being used for a variety of ambiguous home run situations, in which cases umpires have been over-ruled. There is also the issue of George Brett’s bat where the umpire was over-ruled.

In this case, an over-rule is not initiating a precedent. Rather the matter is now in your hands where you possess absolute authority to correct a wrong decision that will go down in history as Exhibit One against the principles of baseball where the merits and the facts are the dominant features of outcomes.

Why prolong the umpire’s agony and upset all those who do not want that missed call to diminish the confidence of fans in their umpires? Why prolong the pain of the pitcher and his immense circle of fans who do not want his perfect performance to go down in baseball history as a lie?

Fortunately, your reaction that day was not specific enough for you to have to over-rule yourself. You merely promised to “consult with all appropriate parties, including our two unions and the Special Committee for On-Field Matters.” You left the door open for reflection and final decision, notwithstanding rumors and leaks to the contrary.

Awaiting a larger decision as to how much more extensive major league baseball wants instant replay to register beyond disputed home runs, you can restrict your decision to reinstate Armanda Galarraga’s perfect game narrowly to that set of facts. This includes the fact that the outcome of the game would not have been changed, given the 28th out. The Cleveland Indians would certainly see the fairness of your video-driven correction. Public perception regarding a just outcome for only the 21st such perfect game in baseball history would be restored.

In this matter no one can credibly claim the slippery slope argument toward any game-slowing routine instant replays such as balls and strikes. You hold the power of precision here.

As one fan, writing in the New York Times declared:

“Parents of young baseball players are trying to make it a teachable moment out of the blown call that deprived a young pitcher of a perfect game.

“The pitcher has been gracious beyond belief, and his bemused smile will become iconic. The umpire was courageous in admitting his error.

“Only Major League Baseball has demonstrated an inability to respond to this unique moment.

“Circumstances make it possible to correct this call with no damage to anyone or any team. But baseball, with its rigid attitude and stubborn pride, reinforces another lesson to kids everywhere: even if everyone does the right thing, hidebound institutions will spoil the happy ending.

“Come on, Bud Selig, make this story about humanity and sportsmanship, not the worship of dogmatic inflexibility.”

What I interpret this fan, William Saum, as implying is that you should perform as if you were a judge in “a court of equity,” (ask your attorneys about how that tradition started in late medieval England) and make the corrective decision. You certainly do not want to become the main “player” behind the eight ball in the judgment of history, about what writer Jason Gay called: “the Detroit Disaster” in the Wall Street Journal.

This historical judgment was also the tenor of the Wall Street Journal editorial—”Bud, Make It Perfect.” Waxing almost lyrical over rejecting traditional excuses, the Journal wrote that:

“In every baseball park in every town, from the Bronx to your kid’s Little League field, anytime some pitcher gets close to perfect, half the people there will start talking about the Galarraga travesty. It will never go away—

“Come on, Bud. —.Little kids with a lifetime of baseball ahead of them are asking their fathers to explain why it has to be this way. It doesn’t. It wasn’t. It was perfect.

“Mr. Commissioner, words fail. But there’s no reason you should.”

The Washington Post noted that: “some of the eminent students of the game, including our colleagues Dave Sheinin and Tom Boswell, are urging baseball commissioner Bud Selig to overrule the bad call and retroactively declare the game to be perfect.” The vast majority of Washington Post readers agreed. And don’t you think that Umpire Joyce would rest better at night were you to remove his missed call from the haunting repeated recollections that he cannot otherwise turn back himself? What umpire would not welcome such a redemptive over-ride to a genuinely avowed error in a perfect game.

It was Tom Boswell who best summed up the reason for you to resolve this dilemma: He wrote: “Perhaps only one person in baseball was flummoxed and indecisive: the commissioner. Impromptu polls showed overwhelming public support that Bud Selig simply use his ‘best interests of baseball’ powers to reverse Joyce’s call and make a one-time only, unique-circumstance, no precedent decision.”

Please do not expect that this sticky episode will blow over if you just ignore it enough. It will become part of the entrenched lore of Baseball Commissioner obstinacy that does not even explain itself. Please cease going down the road where it will be written that at the time of a magnificent equitable opportunity, Commissioner Bud Selig punted and declined to make a decision that combined truth with the beauty of a perfect game.

While millions of Americans are beset with financial strains, unemployment, underemployment, foreclosures and other economic anxieties, not to mention two unpopular and draining wars, consider that you can give them a joyful moment and an enduring memory of pleasure that the right thing was done for fans, and for a player and an umpire to whom so many sports fans identified with on that day of June 2, 2010.

The game needs such a sense of justice done!

I look forward to your response. Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

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