Armando Galarraga is a class act. Only 21 pitchers have ever twirled a perfect game, two coming, ironically, within the last month. Galarraga threw a perfect game last night, the 22nd in history—only one umpire missed what thousands of fans saw clearly, and awarded a base hit to a guy who was out by a full step. And what did Armando Galarraga do? Joe Posnanski writes about it here. Pure class. The guy is apparently a better man even than a pitcher, reacting with such grace.
Jim Joyce is a class act. He knows instinctively, already, hours after blowing the call, that his name will forever go down in infamy as making one of the all-time worst calls in sports history. And yet his concern is for the effect that his bad call will have on Armando Galarraga. To err is human, and Jim Joyce erred, mightily in sports terms, But having the good grace to act as he did shows us a lot about his character. Here’s the account of Galarraga taking the lineup card to home plate ump Jim Joyce before today’s game. A lot of class on both sides.
Then, there’s Bud Selig. Bud Selig is not a stupid man. Granted, he looks like George McFly’s weird uncle, but no one can achieve the position he has in life and actually be the abject moron that he so regularly appears to be. He must be smart in some senses of the word, whether or not the average baseball fan can ascertain such by the naked eye or not. But in the dictionary beside the word “doofus”, Bud Selig’s face should be emblazoned, and the reason is that it’s hard for me to remember a person—let alone a sports commissioner—who just so regularly is out-of-step with common sense. I mean, love to see this guy on the dance floor; he’d make Elaine Benes look like she’d been dancing with the stars. I used to say—and I still do—that if 20 years ago, the powers that be in baseball (and Selig became Commish—albeit “acting Commish”—in 1992) had sat down in a brainstorming session and said, “hey, for the next 20 years, let’s do everything we can to alienate Byron Harvey as a baseball fan”, they couldn’t have done a much better job than they have. The strike season of 1994 happened under Selig’s watch. The drug saga happened under Selig’s watch. The tremendous competitive inequity between the haves and the have-nots has happened under Selig’s watch. Interleague play, that godless monstrosity that should never have seen the light of civilized society, happened under Selig’s watch.
But beyond this, it’s the general out-of-step doofusnosity that this man has an incredible capacity for that just takes the cake. An All Star game ended up tied on his watch, he lacking apparently even the most modest shred of creative thinking for achieving a winner and a loser in a game that never, ever ends in ties, and so as all of baseball fandom is watching, Selig sits on his keister and allows a tie. The man just misses the notes; he’s tone-deaf to common sense.
And then this Galarraga thing comes along, and he has a chance to do the right thing, a thing that does not affect the outcome, even the final score, of the game. A thing about which the truth is not in doubt. A thing that would give to a deserving young nobody of a pitcher, Armando Galarraga, a moment of lasting fame. A thing that wouldn’t even have done harm to one fantasy baseball manager’s record, because not one soul in the world had penciled one Jason Arnold into his starting fantasy lineup. I’m looking on my Blackberry, which gives me the first few words of a news headline in a certain function, and the headline says, “Baseball commissioner Bud Selig…” and I have to click on the link to get the full headline and story, and as I click, I’m thinking, “hey, maybe, just maybe, Bud Selig got it right and overturned Jim Joyce’s decision.” And then the link opened, and then I remembered, “Who am I kidding? This is Bud Selig we’re dealing with!” And of course, Selig missed the note again, and refused to overturn the call and grant the rightfully-earned perfect game.
Tim Kurkjian said that if Selig reversed the call, “he’d be opening a box that’s basically never been opened in baseball history”. Dumb argument, Tim. Selig has already opened some far more stupid boxes than this, and if you’re worried about precedent, here’s the precedent that would be set: if ever an obviously wrong call is made on the very last out of an otherwise perfect game, it should also be reversed. Period; that’s all. 15th out? We’re talking about Galarraga losing a perfect game early on, on a bad call; OK, it happens, but every other piece of this interrelated game is somehow affected. 26th out, even? We’re talking about Galarraga throwing a nice one-hitter that was nearly perfect. But we’re talking about a game that is by all rights over; there is no further chain of events to unfold. I’m a baseball purist, but for Pete’s sake, get the call right (oh, and purist or no, I’m a fan of instant replay on calls like this one. “Human element”? Sure, for pitchers pitching and batters batting, and even for umps calling balls and strikes. But if a player has the ball in his glove, with his foot on a base, prior to the runner gaining the base, the runner is out. Period. And if an ump misses that call, it should be reversed, no less so than getting home runs right.). For the love of all that is right and decent in the sports world, Bud, liberate yourself just this once from your eternal bad taste, your wonkish, slavish, silly adherence to needless principle, and reverse Jim Joyce’s ruling.
Finally, when it comes to class acts, we have to give a nod to Ken Griffey, Jr., who retired last evening after 22 years in baseball. He leaves the game fifth on the all-time home run list, with 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves; you name it, Kid Griff could do it, and he was one of the all-time greats the game of baseball has ever known. In an era in which cheating was rampant among superstars, childish men who couldn’t be content with the gifts God had blessed them with, but needed even more and thus used performance-enhancing drugs, The Kid did it the right way. Every one of his 630 home runs was a legit homer; no taint of cheating such as mars the memories of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro.
The biggest question surrounding Ken Griffey Jr. will always be, unfortunately, “what might have been?” The Kid missed the equivalent of four of his 22 major league seasons, snakebit by the injury bug time and time again. Could he have been the greatest home run hitter of all time (answer: yes!)? What other records could/would he have set, and would we regard him as one of the five or ten greatest players ever to play the game? I think that the answer to that question is likely “yes” as well.
But I’m a stats guy, and so I did a little fiddling with the numbers to try to guess how many home runs Kid Griff would have ended up with had he stayed healthy. Here’s what I did: first, I gave away the strike and injuries he sustained during the 1994 and 1995 seasons, which limited him to 72 and 140 games respectively. Every player has at least a few injuries during his career, unless his last name is Ripken, and so I wrote those off. I dealt with years 2001-2006; in each of those years with the Reds, Griffey had some form of injury that limited him by a few to the majority of the 162-game schedule. I took his average number of at-bats during the years 1996-2000, and then calculated the number of at-bats missed during those six seasons. I figured out his home run rate during 1996-2000, and once I had those numbers, it was easy to figure that Griffey would have hit about 125 more home runs had he remained healthy—which would have tied him with Hank Aaron for second place all-time with 755, just 7 home runs behind The Cheater Who Shall Not Be Named. But…in those injury-plagued years, he hit home runs at a less-prodigious clip; I figured out the actual rate at which he homered in those years, and divided the “at-bats missed” by the rate. By that calculation, Griffey would have hit 94 more home runs, and thus not threatened for the all-time title, but he would have eclipsed both Willie Mays and Babe Ruth (who is, hands-down, the greatest hitter who ever lived), finishing third all time with 724 homers. But that’s flawed as well, in that you have to figure that a guy who is injured and tries to play through it—or is coming back from injury too fast—is likely to hit home runs less prodigiously, and so my best guess is that Ken Griffey Junior would have hit about 740 home runs lifetime had he not been injured. Of course, if he were that close to setting the mark, you gotta wonder what percentage of pitchers would have been (in blowout games) lobbing him underhand stuff just so a class act like Griffey could supplant The Cheater Who Shall Not Be Named. By the same calculations, by the way, Griffey would have easily ended up third in RBI all-time as well, behind Aaron and Ruth.
Bottom line: a first-ballot, should-be-unanimous (but won’t because of some dorky sports writer) Hall of Famer retired yesterday, and I for one am proud to have been his fan since Day One. Enjoy your retirement…”Kid”.