Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Safe or Out?

In last Sunday’s game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, there were no disputed calls at first base.
The Yankees’ Nick Swisher got called out on strikes in the eighth inning. The umpire decided that Swisher had made an attempt to hit the ball, and decided that he had “gone around too far”, in baseball lingo. That really means that he stopped his swing, but not soon enough.
His manager, Joe Girardi, came out of the dugout to argue the call. “I thought that the umpire had a generous strike zone throughout the game. I didn’t think that Swisher had swung.” When asked whether or not he expected to be thrown out of the game, Girardi replied, “As soon as you argue a checked swing, you’re out. Players have a little more latitude.”
The bottom line, of course, was that the Yankees won the game.
There are hundreds of decisions made every baseball game: by the umpires, by the players, by the fans, by the managers and coaches, end even by the ball boys. (In the second inning, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano smacked a ball along the third base line. The replacement ball boy scooped it up when it got to him. He did not realize that it was a fair ball, still in play. Morrow struck out the next two batters, leaving Cano stranded. The ball boy was off the hook.)

The most controversial decision made in a baseball game this year occurred in the ninth inning of a game recently in Detroit. There were two men out, and the Tigers’ pitcher, Armando Galaraga, had retired the previous 26 men in order. He had been perfect up to that point, and needed only one more out to finish the pitching gem.
The Indians’ Jason Donald grounded the ball to the right side of the diamond. The first baseman scooped it up and threw it to Galaraga, who was covering first. The ball arrived before the batter reached the base. The batter appeared to be out. The umpire, long-time veteran Jim Joyce, for some unknown reason, spread his arms with his palms to the ground, indicating that Donald was safe.
There is tremendous pressure at that point in a game. A perfect game is truly rare, having taken place only twenty times in tens of thousands of baseball games.
Upon further review of the video of the game, there is no question that the ball arrived after the runner had banged his foot on the base.
Following the game, the umpire apologized to Galaraga, and to the world. Galaraga accepted his apology, and the keys to a new Corvette.
Even the White House got involved in the situation. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that he thought that “Washington could learn a lesson from this”. My goodness!

Hold the phone.
The waters are a little murky, but I am going to add another important element here and now. The baseball thrown by the first baseman was caught by Galaraga at the very top of his glove. It is called a “snow cone”. The ball then continued down into the palm of the pitcher’s glove, and settled finally in the pocket. At the same time, Jason Donald touched the base.
The point is: Galaraga did not have control of the baseball when the runner touched the base. The runner is therefore safe. Joyce had in fact made the correct call, purely by luck. He could not see the movement of the ball in Galaraga’s glove.
Nor did the video show that movement from a side angle.
Tom Giordano sits quietly in the third row of the Press Box in Toronto. He has been in the game for sixty-four years. I explained what I had seen on the video to him, and he was surprised. “If that is the case,” he told me, “that the pitcher did not have control of the ball, the runner is safe. I will take a closer look at the replay.”
In football, for instance, if a receiver is juggling the ball when he steps out of bounds, the pass is ruled incomplete. Giordano and I agreed that the situations could be regarded as being similar.
Larry Milson has been covering sports for years. “I saw that in the replay. Someone mentioned it to the official scorer, and there was some discussion that it might have been ruled an error.” (likely the correct scoring!)
You could not help but feel sorry for Galaraga, and for Joyce.
This is America’s Pastime. But it is just a game. I am certain that both have moved on, at least I hope so.
Several Blue Jay fans hid their brooms at the end of the game.

James Hurst
June 8, 2010

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