THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
On Thursday, umpire Jim Joyce found himself in the middle of yet another controversy involving a blown call. But thanks to the fact that it was Jim Joyce who faced this issue, we have the opportunity to see the silver lining in this mess.
First, let's give you a little background. Jim Joyce (#66) has been an MLB umpire since 1987. In every single poll taken of MLB players and coaches, he is constantly voted one of the best (if not the best) umpire based on his professionalism, hustle, and fairness. He works harder than anyone to make sure he is never doubted when he officiates. He will give every player and coach the opportunity to explain themselves when conflict arises, and he offers calm and thorough explanations whenever asked. In fact, after the game in question Thursday, Indians manager Terry Francona, whose team benefited from the blown call, said of Joyce, "I will say, that guy behind the plate [Joyce] gives you as good an effort and is as conscientious as any umpire I've ever been around. And there have been calls that have gone against us with him. It's just hard to get mad at him, because he gives you everything you ever ask for."
Joyce gained unfortunate attention on June 2, 2010, when his blown call cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Needing only one more out for a perfect game, Joyce called the final batter-runner safe at first when the call really wasn't even that close. After seeing the replay, a tearful Joyce admitted to the media after the game that he cost Galarraga the perfect game. What made the situation beautiful, however, was the tearful confrontation the next day. After working first base during Galarraga's game, Joyce had the plate the next day. When the umpires came out for the pregame conference, Galarraga was assigned to bring out the lineup card for his Detroit Tigers. With tears flowing, Joyce hugged Galarraga, exhibiting one of the ultimate examples of superb sportsmanship in history. (Keep in mind, too, that instant replay did not exist in baseball at that time. Had it been available, this would not be a story.)
Back to Thursday. According to the description given by Brian McTaggart on his MLB.com article, "The Indians had a 2-1 lead over the Astros in the third and had the bases loaded with two outs when Astros rookie pitcher David Paulino bounced a breaking ball in the dirt. The ball struck the bat of Lonnie Chisenhall on a check swing, but no foul ball was called by plate umpire Jim Joyce. Francisco Lindor scored from third base and Mike Napoli raced from second to score on what was ruled a wild pitch. Jose Ramirez, who was on first, went all the way to third before Joyce called time in the confusion.
"Astros catcher Jason Castro never went to chase the ball, certain it had been fouled, and even reached out his hand for a new ball. Hinch immediately bolted from the dugout to talk to Joyce and eventually was ejected.
"The crew on the field huddled and finally went to the headset for a rules check to confirm that a potential foul tip is non-reviewable per the replay regulations. The crew also asked for post-play runner placement after time had been called, and Ramirez was sent back to second.
"Joyce told a pool reporter he didn't see the ball hitting the bat.
"'And then I went to each crew member and asked them the same thing,' Joyce said. 'If any of them had it hitting the bat, I would have turned around and called a foul ball. My partners couldn't help me on it. Since I called timeout, I scored two runs and put the other guy on [second].'
"The veteran umpire, who hadn't seen the replay of the play immediately after the game, said he called timeout after two runs had scored because Castro was emphatically trying to discuss with him what was going on.
"'I'm not going to let bases loaded, keep rolling,' Joyce said. 'To use a little bit of common sense and some fair play on that one, I wanted to call time and figure out what had happened.'"
So what did we learn from all this?
Joyce missed a pretty obvious call. But remember the days before instant replay when umpires missed calls and nothing changed except a manager got run? It happened. And it can still happen.
See, instant replay, like so many other things in life, is a tool, not a crutch. The goal of replay is to attempt to get calls right as best as possible so long as they are within the rules governing how replay can be used. Too frequently, the attitude of players, coaches, and fans alike is that replay is supposed to be a magical cure to the ailment that is the blown call. And it's simply not the case.
The best analogy I can give regarding a comparison to replay is that of an anti-depressant. The drug is not meant to be the cure to the problem at hand; it is not meant to be used as a crutch that will automatically allow the person taking it to suddenly be relieved of the symptoms that caused the original diagnosis and prescription. Instead, the drug is meant to act as a tool that will allow the person taking it to alleviate the road blocks that have prevented the person from addressing the problems at hand that led to said diagnosis.
The casual baseball fan (and, to an extent, the casual sports fan who sees replay used in other sports) probably thinks that replay was allowed so as to not let the wrong call stand. This assumption is what leads to the unwarranted frustration of fans.
Further, when replay was introduced into baseball, the governing powers that be clearly stated that the introduction of replay would be a process with a fair amount of trial and error. It would not be a perfect system, and it would probably take at least three years to get it close to some definition of "right." Even now, we see that replay may need some tweaks to the system, and this play may be the evidence needed. But due to the circumstances now, there is absolutely no justified reason to get upset at Joyce or anyone else over this blown call. Was it the wrong call? Yes. But it could not be reviewed.
Consider this as well. Joyce went above and beyond to try to get the call right. He consulted with each of his partners so as to ask for any help. He went to the headsets to talk to the umpires in New York to make sure that he could not review it. His goal was not to screw the Astros. His goal was to do everything in his power to rectify an honest mistake.
Of course, Astros manager A.J. Hinch was not happy. Who would be happy in that scenario? He came out to argue, which Joyce clearly allowed. But after both Joyce and Hinch had said enough, Joyce drew the line in the sand, much like Mike Everitt did with Victor Martinez a few Saturdays ago. Hinch didn't leave, which prompted Joyce to eject him for not allowing the game to continue. In fact, if you read Hinch's lips, he actually accepted the ejection, almost agreeing with it.
The point is that Jim Joyce did his job to the best of his ability. He tried his damnedest. He missed a call. Everyone in history has made a mistake before. We should be thankful that Joyce's mistake was during a baseball game and not while doing something that could actually cause physical harm. Further, the rules were clearly followed with regard to instant replay and trying to rectify the situation.
And if anybody deserves praise for how he handles mistakes, it's Jim Joyce.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.