“They expect an umpire to be perfect on Opening Day and to improve as the season goes on.”
- American League Umpire Nestor Chylak
As umpiring and seasons go, perfection is defined somewhere between yesterday’s correct call and tomorrow’s blown call. Just ask umpires Jim Joyce and Don Denkinger.
Joyce was the third base umpire in this year’s third game of the World Series. When Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s throw caromed off third baseman Will Middlebrooks into left field, St. Louis Cardinals runner Allen Craig tried to race home, tripping over Middlebrooks who lay prone in the base path. Joyce, signaled interference and home plate umpire Dana DeMuth declared that Craig would have been safe if not for the interference.
The Cardinals won. Joyce’s call was correct and by the rule, and just like that, once again, Joyce was thrown into the spotlight.
Joyce, you may recall, blew a call at first base in 2010, costing Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game with 2 outs in the ninth. The next day, Joyce’s tearful apology demonstrated just how wrong, and how human, umpires can be in this game of baseball.
Don Denkinger received death threats for years after blowing a call in the sixth game of the 1985 World Series. Jorge Orta of the Kansas City Royals led off the ninth inning that game with a chopper to the right side. He clearly was thrown out at first, but Denkinger called him safe. And while Orta was erased on the bath paths later that inning at third base for the first and only out of the ninth, and the Royals rallied to beat the St. Louis Cardinals and go on to win the series, Denkinger was vilified by St. Louis fans.
Denkinger, like Joyce, would keep his chin up and go on to umpire in more high-profile games in his career.
Blown calls are part of the fabric of the game. Who can forget the New York Yankees Reggie Jackson in the 1976 World Series, throwing his hip in the way of a Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell‘s throw to first base while Russell was trying to turn two. The ball ricocheted into foul ground allowing a run to score. Arguments ensued, but Jackson was not called for interference.
Reading through some blogs and posts online regarding this year’s call by Joyce, it is easy to wince at statements such as this: “Baseball games shouldn’t be decided by umpires.”
Well, sure they should. That’s the umpire’s place in the game, deciding how to apply the rules to the actions on the field. And in judgement calls, right or wrong, that’s the way the ball bounces.
Maybe this year’s call was final retribution for the Cardinals for the missed call in 1985. Or, maybe it was the right moment for Joyce, who is as good an umpire as he is a person. In any case, as with any call, let the record stand.
Hall of Fame umpire Tom Connolly, who umpired the first ever American League game in 1901, once said, “Maybe I called it wrong, but it’s official.”