*My buddy John, a lifelong diehard Mets Fan, is going to be utterly annoyed with this article. So John, I’m sorry and please forgive me*
As it has been widely reported, it took the Mets organization over 50 years and over 8000 games to experience their first no-hitter. Finally, this past Saturday evening, Johan Santana – the same Johan Santana who missed the entire 2011 season with a serious shoulder injury – threw 134 pitches and got 27 outs without giving up a single hit against the defending World Series Champions, St. Louis Cardinals. It was a no-hitter. It was a great moment. It was the type of stuff Mets’ fans have been dreaming about for over half-a-century. It was so special that one dumb-ass Mets’ fan (in an old-school Gary Carter jersey) felt it was more important to run on the field and celebrate the occasion than it was to stay out of jail for his son’s first birthday. The only the thing is, it really shouldn’t have been all that…
This isn’t meant to be a post on how I hate the Mets or how the Cardinals got screwed. Frankly, that’s just not true. I enjoy watching the Mets (at least more than the Yankees) and the Cardinals would have still lost this game even had it not been a no-hitter. In the grand scheme of things, the most important consequence – winning and losing – was not affected by the blown call that lead to the no-hitter. But what this event does show is how unnecessarily unfair sports can be at times. A break here or bad bounce there can be the difference from being immortalized like Johan Santana, or already forgotten like Armando Galarraga.
In case you don’t know his story, Galarraga was the Detroit Tigers pitcher in 2010 who was just one out away from a perfect game (even better than your traditional no-hitter) when umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called a runner safe at first base. What should have been the 27th and final out of the game, was instead misruled a base hit and effectively ruined Galarraga’s bid for glory. Instead of being just the 19th pitcher in the modern-baseball era to throw a perfect game, Galarraga was left with being little more than a sympathetic public figure for a few days before fading away from the spotlight. The saddest thing of all, it wasn’t a bad break or an unlucky pitch that cost Galarraga his rightful place in history – it was an easily correctable mistake by another human being. Instances like his make it difficult to understand why baseball does not (better) utilize technology when such resource is quick, easy, and accurate.
I understand the argument that ‘human nature’ is part of the sport – I agree with that. I just don’t agree with ‘human nature’ being part of non-judgment calls. There is no ‘human nature’ about a ball being fair or foul. Or a defender stepping on the bag before a runner does. That’s not ‘human nature’, that’s right or wrong. Baseball should use instant replay to get such calls correct. It’s that simple.
Honestly, what is the potential downside of using an expanded instant replay system? Critics believe it would ‘slow the game down’. Oh really? Slow baseball down? Last time I checked, a baseball game wasn’t exactly a drag-race. Would you rather spend three hours of your evening watching a game and walk away knowing your team got screwed because they couldn’t take three extra minutes to get a call right? Or would you rather spend three hours and three minutes watching a game and know the outcome was fair? My point being, both football and basketball have expanded replay in recent years and it has done nothing to take away from the fabric and tradition of the game. As a football fan, never once have I been on the unfavorable end of a replay review and felt like my team was getting screwed. It is either in or out. Fair or foul. Right or wrong. Except in baseball…
My friends and I recently had this exact discussion about instituting expanded replay into baseball and I surprisingly found myself in the minority by supporting its implementation. One friend, a Mets’ fan, predictably argued that ‘human nature’ was part of the game and always will be. He actually cited the Galarraga example and spoke of how he’ll always remember it because of the blown call. I vividly remembered this conversation this past Saturday as I was watching Santana’s no-hitter. For hypothetical reasons, I would have loved for that exact same scenario (as Galarraga’s) to play out during the Mets’ game and cost Santana his no-hitter in the ninth inning. Would my friend still have been so supportive of the ‘human nature’ element when it was his team’s history getting cheated? Maybe so, but maybe not.
This past Saturday, Mets’ fans found themselves on the exact opposite end of the spectrum than Tigers’ fans did two years ago. Instead of being cheated by poor officiating, their epic moment was made possible by it. In the top of the sixth inning, Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran pulled a ball down the third baseline for what should have been the Cardinal’s first hit. Yet, despite the fact the ball clearly landed on top of the chalk and in fair play, the umpires ruled it foul. As you know, Santana went on to retire Beltran and the rest of the Cardinals on his way to the organization’s first-ever no-hitter. Only it wasn’t… or at least it shouldn’t have been.
Sports can be cruel and sports can be kind – just ask Galarraga and Santana. While both got something they didn’t deserve, it is unfortunate history books will only remember the wrong person. Santana will be forever immortalized for something he accomplished in a trivial manner, while Galarraga will be forgotten for something he accomplished in the most genuine of style. I ask only that the outcome of what I am watching is fair and just. While not every rule in sports (fouls in basketball, holding in football) can be easily aided by the implementation of technology, baseball has no excuse for getting these history-changing calls incorrect. That’s that.