Armando Galarraga Didn’t Have a Perfect Game in 2010 and Can’t Have One Now by Changing MLB History
Changing the past simply doesn’t work in sports
On June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga threw the game of his life. Facing the Cleveland Indians, he methodically faced the first 26 batters and retired them all. Batter number 27, Jason Donald, hit a weak dribbler to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who flipped the ball to Galarraga to narrowly nip the runner to complete the perfect game. Except it wasn’t a perfect game. Veteran umpire Jim Joyce, who shortly after the end of the game admitted he was wrong, signaled safe. The game ended on the next batter with Galarraga not having credit for a no-hitter or the perfecto. A decade later, he is seeking to have that changed in baseball’s official record, but despite the injustice that can’t happen.
Joyce was a terrific umpire, working in the majors for nearly three decades. Although he was very open about blowing the perfect game call, even going so far to say he “kicked the shit out of that call,” his realization came too late to change history.
As quickly as the following day, Galarraga and Joyce made a small cottage industry of the positive way they handled the matter. The pitcher delivered the next game’s starting lineup to Joyce, who was publicly contrite and forthcoming about his gaffe. The two even later teamed up to write a book about the experience, called Nobody’s Perfect.
In the ten years since, MLB has adopted a system of instant replay which allows for the reviews of a number of in-game plays. If the controversial contest was played today, the incorrect call would be immediately overturned within minutes. This apparently has stirred up bitterness for Galarraga, who now wants his perfect game back. In an interview with The Athletic, he recently explained, “I was like, what can I do to have a better finish to the story? How can Major League Baseball give me the perfect game? Because it was perfect, right?”
Joyce was also quoted as being in agreement with Galarraga’s request. However, no matter how unfair it may seem, it’s something that should not be considered.
Pointing to the available replay today doesn’t impact the game from 2010. The rules it was played under did not allow for replays, no matter how egregious the call may seem in retrospect. There is simply no precedent for such an issue, and starting one would only open a can of worms that be impossible to control or provide complete fairness.
There are any number of plays from baseball games of the past that allow us to know after the fact, due to the tale of the tape, that there were incorrect calls that impacted team and player records. You simply can’t go back to change these. If an attempt was made, how would it be regulated? Just because Galarraga’s missed call cost him a really special event doesn’t give the argument for revising past missed calls more credibility.
Part of what makes baseball perfect is its deference to some imperfection. Nothing exemplifies this better than the human element added by umpires. In a game that relies so heavily on absolutes like numbers/math, safe/out, foul/fair, the judgment of the arbiters of each play provide an element of drama and flair. These human umpires are striving for accuracy but inevitably fall short of getting them all right. The emotion this injects, particularly for fans, helps make baseball so compelling.
There have been 23 perfect games thrown in big-league history. Galarraga, who finished with an modest career record of 26–34 with a 4.78 ERA, should have been the 24th but a missed call stripped him of that chance. It’s understandable that he’d like MLB to revisit and correct the record, but it’s also unrealistic. There’s no reasonable path to make a revision, much like he can’t take back pitches from his past he might wish he could throw again.