The human element in baseball

This video featuring the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce at home plate for the lineup card exchange is among the only kinds of human elements that should matter in baseball.

Friday’s column from The Herald:

It is at the same time endearing and paradoxical, this thing called the human element in baseball.

While the loss of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game has blatantly signaled the absolute necessity for expanded instant replay in baseball — answer me this: since when did it become all right to be so wrong? — it’s not the human element of umpire Jim Joyce’s missed call that’s being championed. That much is abundantly clear.

And it shouldn’t be. Not anymore. Because the human element adage in allowing blown calls is every bit as outdated as most teenagers view the actual game of baseball. To say that using instant replay to correct significant calls attacks the integrity of the century-old game is flat-out misguided.

The “human element” in umpiring was, until the last 25 years, a necessary evil, nothing more. Since then, it’s been pure stubbornness. Had Abner Doubleday (or whomever invented the grand game) had instant replay at his disposal 140 years ago, he likely would have implemented it. A lack of instant replay beyond boundary calls in baseball is the product of two things: the circumstances under which the game was established a century ago, and a commissioner who most often reacts  only after times get desperate (the Steroid Era, anyone?).

Some may say baseball is too slow of a game. If that’s the case, change in baseball is practically glacial.

But that’s only part of the story today.

Because in the aftermath — even the immediate aftermath — of the Missed Call Seen ’Round The World, we have witnessed the only human element that should ever be lauded in not only baseball, but in any sport.

Joyce couldn’t have handled the situation better. He immediately took a look at the replay and made a beeline for the Tigers clubhouse. He sought out Galarraga, apologized for the call, and was so distressed that the pitcher ended the impromptu and unlikely (especially in baseball history) meeting by consoling Joyce.

Galarraga has no doubt become a fan favorite in the last few hours. First, he didn’t argue the play when everyone else did. Second, he turned the page in his postgame comments, saying that everybody makes mistakes.

And Tigers manager Jim Leyland, after initial criticism on the field that was unheard by fans, quickly cooled down and offered a route for a smooth transition in his own postgame comments, praising both his pitcher and the umpire. (How often do you hear managers laud umpires? And after missed calls? That may have been the most historic happening of anything Wednesday night.)

But the most touching moment came before Thursday’s day game, when Leyland sent Galarraga out to home plate to hand the lineup card to Joyce, who after a few seconds wiped tears from his eyes. And then Galarraga patted the ump on the back, like a parent would for a heartbroken child.

These moments have been baseball’s true human elements. A man admitting he was wrong on the call of his life, then going out to face the world again. Another man accepting an apology on the biggest night of his career with pure grace and understanding. And another doing something to bring the two together again in a moment that can only help heal the situation.

If only Bud Selig could reveal a human element within the commissioner’s office by looking into not just his heart, but the hearts of the men most affected by one ground ball and the millions of fans’ hearts who still love this game despite its many flaws, and overturn the call.

Armando Galarraga didn’t only pitch a perfect game, he was extra perfect, retiring 28 in order. He may never get the historical recognition he deserves, but the actions and words that came forth as a result of imperfection cannot be left to wither away:

A bad night for baseball brought out the best in sports.

And in man.

Baseball indeed can be a perfect game.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

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