It’s almost a blessing that the ending of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game went kablooey.  If it hadn’t, then it would’ve been just another statistic.  But now it will forever be a cornucopia of allegories about human frailty, coping with loss, all kinds of things.  Can you imagine how many sermon illustration are going to come from this game?  If Galarraga had a nickel for every one of them, he’d say, “Screw the perfect game, just give me all of those nickels!”

We can learn a lot of lessons from the game, and we can learn a lot of lessons from reactions to the game.

image via AP

Yes, it was a cosmically bad call. It gets worse every time I see the replay.  By the time they show it in a season-recap show in October, the batter will be falling into the dugout and knocking himself unconscious on the way to first, and he’ll still be called safe.

And it happened at the worst possible time.  If it had happened on the first out, or the tenth out, or the twentieth out, nobody would’ve said another word about it.  But it happened on the 27th out–the ultimate out of the ultimate pitching achievement.  So an umpire’s judgment call on a bang-bang play–something that happens thousands of times a season–was magnified to historic proportions. (Which just goes to show: you can make all the mistakes you want, as long as you time them right.)

Naturally, the historic nature of this boner demands a historically hysterical reaction.  Leaving aside the demands that Jim Joyce and/or Bud Selig should shave their heads, change their names, and move to an offshore oil rig in the Baltic sea, the first and loudest reaction has been a call for baseball to start using instant replay.  Only slightly less berserk were demands that the baseball commissioner overrule the umpire’s call and award the perfect game to Galarraga.

I’m sure this grand tizzy will subside after a while, but I can’t help but see these reactions as symptoms of a problem that doesn’t have anything to do with baseball. It’s an ever more commonly held belief that we can make everything right if only we choose to. In every aspect of life–law, economics, and apparently sports–a lot of people think that perfect justice can be imposed on any situation from above.

As a conservative, I think that that’s a wonderful ideal, but ideals often go bad when they run up against real life.  Think abot it for a second, and you realize that no one would want anything to do with the can of worms that would be opened if the commissioner of baseball overruled an umpire a couple or three days after the fact.  If he can do that, why can’t he go back in time and overrule all the bad calls that have ever been made, and change all the record books accordingly?

And as for instant replay, there’s a contingent of sports fans who think that instant replay is the answer to all our problems, and they’re using this emotional incident to apply leverage for their case.   But the best argument against that was made by Fred Schwarz on The Corner:

What if last night’s game had ended a little differently, with the runner being called out on a close play, and the Tigers had poured out onto the field and mobbed Galarraga, and then two minutes later the review guy had said, “Wait, he was safe.” Does anyone want to see that?

And the best response to all of this ruckus came from Dr. Saturday:

But do-overs are for children. Adults put rules and systems in place to deal with potential mistakes as consistently as possible, and live with the results; if they can’t live with the results, they change the system. But even the best systems will ultimately operate at the discretion of the people who oversee it, who sometimes reveal themselves to be too old, or nearsighted, or temperamental, or just out of position. Selectively second-guessing certain calls, when there are legitimate complaints in practically every game in every sport, is inevitably a Pandora’s box you’ll be lucky to get closed again.

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