The imperfect game. In our imperfect world. Part 1

Posted on June 10, 2010


Writing and traveling for my day job have distracted me from the blog for a busy three weeks in the sporting world. And in particular, other deadlines and a trip abroad kept me from weighing in on The Imperfect Game: when Armando Galarraga earned the 27th consecutive out, but was denied his perfect game when the first-base umpire Jim Joyce blew the call.

I will presume that the events during, and shortly after, the allegedly worst call in the history of baseball are now familiar to anyone who cares about America’s Pastime. The passion and volume of debate in the media — and not just the sports media — was extraordinary.

I suspect there is also nothing left to be said about what should be done about this event, and about whether to reduce the frequency of such gross injustices in the future. My favorite concise analysis comes from former pitcher, and celebrated author of the most famous baseball memoir of all time, Jim Bouton in this piece in the The New York Times. (You will also find there a link to video of the play, as well as the opinions of a handful of other high-profile pundits rustled up by the Old Gray Lady.)

Should the Commissioner, Bud Selig, use his power to act arbitrarily “in the interest of baseball” and award a perfect game to Armando Galarraga? Should the very limited use of instant replay be expanded to rectify these kinds of problems on the spot in the future?

For any true baseball fan, these are huge and hugely complicated issues, and I’m actually rather surprised by how uncomplicated most of the pundits’ arguments and convictions were. I’m also quite surprised that nearly everyone thinks it’s obvious that “yes” is the correct answer to both of these questions.

I have little to add to those specific debates. I am more interested in what all the interest and passion around this event says about us: about what we think about the sport of baseball, and about how we think in general about coping with uncertainty and injustice in the design of institutions.

While taking too many flights out of the country over the past couple of weeks I had enough time to scribble too many notes about our reactions to the Imperfect Game. So I will break them up over a number of posts — in order to clear the decks to reflections on the end of the NHL and NBA playoffs, and the on-set of the World Cup.