Most people in the sports world, and beyond, know by now about the Blown Call. On Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galaraga was one out away from a perfect game, in Comerica Park. Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians hit a slow ground ball in the hole between first and second base, drawing the first baseman off the bag. Galaraga dashed to first base and took the throw. Veteran umpire Jim Joyce was in an excellent position to see the play and called the batter safe. The fans groaned; the world groaned. Instant replay showed that the runner was out by a step. It would have been the first no hitter or perfect game in Detroit’s long history.

Umpire Joyce soon reversed himself, admitted he was wrong, cried, and apologized. “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the shit out of it,” Joyce said. “I cost that kid a perfect game.” Armando Galaraga remained poised. “I feel sad,” he said. “I just watched the replay 20 times and there’s no way you can call him safe.” He got the last out of the game and the Tigers won 3 – 0.

Under the present rules of baseball, baseball replays can only be used for questionable home runs. There is no appealing a judgment call, either by replay or protest. Well, actually there is.

Allan “Bud” Selig, age 75, is the Commissioner of Baseball, the Chief Executive Officer, the Man with the Power. He is not a do-nothing commissioner. He has instituted a number of changes into the sport, including interleague play and the wild card, and instant replay itself. He is popular with team owners. On June 3rd he announced that he would not use his office to officially reverse the call.

Supporters of Selig have pointed to a Pandora’s Box of other close calls that could now be served up for review. Baseball, already not the fastest of team sports inasmuch as it is not governed by the clock, which I love, allowing for titanic battles long into the night, would be overwhelmed by review requests.

I say, nonsense.

First, there’s nothing like a no-hitter, much less a perfect game, in any other sport. Holding the opposing team to zero yards and score in football, is not the same thing, for example. Baseball is one man against the opposing team, with backup from his own fielders, of course, but still has that one-man-standing-against-many quality to it.

I know, I pitched a no-hitter for the Talleyville Hawks of Wilmington, Delaware when I was 11. I was mobbed after the game by my teammates, but in the confusion I was not given the game ball. So my win was official but not complete, a small hurt that has remained with me.

Second, the prime directive in any sport is to get it right, to match the effort on the field with the score. So use what you have and worry about unintended or unwanted consequences of expanding the use of instant replay later. Show some courage.

Third, most directly, this is about two men’s lives, pitcher and ump. Mr. Galaraga may never get close to a perfect game the rest of his career, or the City of Detroit. It doesn’t matter that the city gave him a blazing red Corvette. Umpire Joyce will surely carry this burden for the rest of his life; his family has been threatened. The umpire’s call is not an act of God, or nature, or of hubris, the fall from grace of a man by his foul deeds, as in Greek tragedy. Baseball is a man made construct and can be changed like any other game.

It’s not just about being popular, although popularity cannot be lightly discarded in fan sports. It’s about getting things right, if not the first time, then upon review. Now Commissioner Selig himself has a new burden to carry, his failure to act, to get out of the board room and seize the moment and render a thumbs up. Oh, wait. It’s still not too late to act. This episode doesn’t need to be an American tragedy. Governors and presidents sign reprieves. Military honors are awarded years after the battle. Don’t leave that blown call still burning on the baseball field. The first words of your speech. Mr. Commissioner, will begin like this: “Upon further review…”

You know that old saying, better late than never.

By Hudson Owen. All rights reserved.

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