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Blown call becomes a lesson in sportsmanship

What a convergence: Ken Griffey Jr. retires; Stephen Strasburg, the Next Big Thing, pitches here before bidding adieu to the minor leagues, and in another part of the Rust Belt, umpire Jim Joyce and Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga meet at home plate and remind us about the virtues of sportsmanship and human decency.

There will be repercussions from Joyce's missed call at first base with two out in the ninth inning Wednesday, costing Galarraga a perfect game. Commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday - wisely, it says here - that he will not overrule the call. But make no mistake, this was a seminal moment for baseball and the use of video replay. Joyce ruled that Cleveland Indians base runner Jason Donald was safe at first, but replays showed that the toss to Galarraga by Tigers infielder Miguel Cabrera was clearly in time.

"I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features," Selig said in a prepared release Thursday. He acknowledged Joyce's admission of error, noting: "As Jim Joyce said in his postgame comments, there is no dispute that last night's game should have ended differently. While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed."

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By nature, any game that doesn't involve a clock, in which the defence has possession of the ball, and where a batter who fails two-thirds of the time can become a gazillionaire, is going to be quirky and messy. That's why many of us like it. So it is important to keep Wednesday's event in context. Yes, it cost Galarraga a perfect game, because Galarraga retired the next batter to end the night. It did not, however, affect the outcome of the game.

Joyce 'fessed up afterward. To the Tigers' credit, after the initial explosion of anger, they, too, handled the situation well. Galarraga's smile and postgame comments were disarming, and even crusty manager Jim Leyland was subdued in his postgame news conference after blistering Joyce on the field.

Leyland sent Galarraga to home plate with the lineup card Thursday, with Joyce scheduled to work the plate. The umpire teared up as the crowd applauded. "Everybody makes a mistake," Galarraga said Thursday. "I'm sure he didn't want to make that call. You see that guy last night? He felt really bad. He didn't even change. The other umpires shower, eat. He was sitting in the seat [and saying] 'I'm so sorry.'"

This is all in the best traditions of the game, of any game, in fact. It is a lesson, a dignified and adult response allowing Selig to view the situation in the proper manner. It opened the door to a possible future correcting of the historical record - a door that was already ajar because the play did not impact the outcome of the game.

It has been suggested that given the importance of the call, the umpire crew should have broken with tradition and rules, taken matters into their own hands and reviewed the play themselves, precedent be damned. Video replay facilities are already in place at ballparks for home runs. Others wonder if Wednesday night's issue could have been avoided had the umpires huddled on the field after the play and gone over the call.

And so more texture has been added to the debate about increasing video replay in baseball. That's fine. Increased video replay has a place in the majors provided its use is left in the hands of the crew chief and not used for balls and strikes but only home runs and disputed plays on the bases. In other words, managers could not request a play be reviewed, and even if they come out to do so or argue a call, the umpires would be under no obligation to use it. Video replay, then, could not be used deliberately as a strategic tool to change the flow or patterns of the game, or as an excuse for more TV commercials. It would instead enhance the game, and help good people to make the right decisions. Not only do the Armando Galarragas of the world deserve that, the Jim Joyces do, too.

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