Galarraga, Keynes, and the Prince of Persia

When replays showed that Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga, covering first on the last out of a perfect game, caught the ball before the Indians’ Jason Donald touched the bag, a national debate erupted over whether Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, ought to reverse Umpire Jim Joyce’s inaccurate call that Donald was safe. In most cases the appeals were coupled with a demand for expanded use of instant replay. I write this note to clear up any confusion this unfortunate event may have caused.

I begin by setting out the ground rules which govern something as significant as changing an umpire’s judgment call. First, we consult the economics of the issue and recall that John Maynard Keynes noted that, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Second, we refer for context to the popular culture, represented in this instance by The Prince of Persia a fantasy movie centered on the ultimate instant replay device – a sacred dagger that reverses time and allows its possessor to change the past but at some danger to the world. Our task then is to determine if the facts changed and if so, whether the situation justifies the Commissioner of Baseball pulling his dagger and changing the past. The answer to both questions is of course no and so Armando Galarraga pitched the most famous one-hitter since the Mets’ Tom Seaver beat the Cubs 4-0 on July 9, 1969.

We all agree on the class and grace of the principals. Peggy Noonan applauded both Joyce who had the integrity to take responsibility and Galarraga who had the discipline to finish the game and the grace to accept the distraught umpire’s apology. Detroit Manager Jim Leyland endorsed the reconciliation by sending Galarraga out to present Joyce with the line-up card for the following game, and the Detroit players recognized Joyce’s integrity with back slaps and kind words. Joyce, Galarraga, Leyland, the Tigers and a few others demonstrated why baseball on the field is a microcosm of life – only better and more finely drawn. In this case, the principals were more noble than the popular culture that focused on Galarraga’s “victimization” and drew their daggers on Joyce.

Galarraga accomplished the nearly impossible and Joyce’s failure denied it to him and then both rose above it. This is why the ruling should stand. We live in a world where, as in baseball, imperfect men make imperfect decisions that affect our lives and we cannot appeal to instant replay. Unlike the Persian prince, we don’t get mulligans in life. Baseball, as many commentators seem to have forgotten, is a game. It is governed by rules, one of the most important of which is that judgment calls, which include whether a base runner is safe or out, cannot be appealed. The umpire’s judgment constitutes the relevant fact. No replay can change that fact so Keynes can rest easy. By accepting the rules and going back to the mound to finish the job that he started, Galarraga showed high character. In a world where rules were overturned whenever the outcome was unfortunate, Galarraga would not have been called upon to demonstrate his mettle. Joyce would have had no need to display his integrity. We witnessed something far more important than a perfect game. Let it stand.

Posted by Bob