In 2014, Major League Baseball introduced its state of the art league-wide replay review system. The goal? To get the call right. Most of the time, replay helps with that. But, sometimes it doesn’t. So, it begs the question: Can we get every call right? Probably. With the rapid advancement of technology, there’s no reason to believe that a system can’t be put in place that would get every single call correct. But, is that what we really want? What price would we pay for it? Is it really worth it?
Picture this. You’re sitting on the couch with your buddies, drinking a cold beer with your feet up. You just took your socks off and Dave is giving you hell for the wretched aroma that now consumes the room. You jab back at him for his chronic flatulence and make fun of him for drinking a beer that tells you when it’s cold. I mean seriously, can’t you just feel the beer with your hand, Dave? The banter starts to quiet down a bit and you settle into the game. Dave’s rooting for the hated Dodgers and you’re tuned in to your beloved Giants. The Giants lead the Dodgers two to one in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs. Yasiel Puig takes his short lead off of third base, and Cody Bellinger hits a high chopper towards short. Brandon Crawford comes charging in, throwing on the run and bang! He’s out.
But, the umpire calls him safe. Dave erupts, his hysteria overriding the putrid smells of the room. You argue back and forth, both insisting you’re right. Then, they show the replay. The call is under review and it quickly becomes clear that Bellinger was out. The umpires put on their headsets, and make the call. Out. The argument is over. The call has concluded. They got it right. All is right.
That’s where we are now. Gone are the days of ambiguous single-angle replays. Gone are the week-long arguments over a call between friends. Gone is the ever entertaining manager tirade. Maybe that’s an okay sacrifice to make for getting the call right. Maybe not. Maybe we’re beginning to lose what draws us to sports in the first place. Humanity. The unpredictable nature of humanity.
In 2010, Armando Gallaraga was one out away from throwing a perfect game when Jason Donald dribbled a ball towards first base. Miguel Cabrera threw to Gallaraga, who beat the runner to the bag, but was called safe. The perfect game was ruined. It was gut-wrenching to watch. You felt sick to your stomach as you watched Armando Gallaraga just stand there and smile. When he had every reason to go nuts, to scream at Joyce or to throw a fit, he just stood there and smiled, got on with the next batter, and completed his perfect but not perfect game. After the game, he simply said “nobody’s perfect.”
Joyce, the umpire who made the call, felt worse than anyone. “I take pride in this job and I kicked the shit out of that. And I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his ass off all night.” The next day, Joyce, who was now the home plate umpire, walked onto the field in tears. He met Armando Gallaraga at the plate, and they shook hands. You could see the pain in Joyce’s face. You couldn’t forget it. But, he had a game to call. A job to do. The game went on. Life went on. But, there was a moment. A moment showing us that sports aren’t about always getting it right. Rather, a moment showing us that sports are an extension of what it means to be a person. What it means to put everything you have into something and still lose. To make a mistake and have to confront it. Because without that moment, if MLB had already switched to replay, we wouldn’t have been shown who Jim Joyce the person is. He would simply remain an umpire.