Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blown Calls, Official Scoring and Perfect Games

Blown calls by umpires have been in the news quite a bit this year.  Blown calls that have literally cost games - and in the worst situation imaginable - a perfect game on the last out.  This has quite naturally stirred debate about instant replay.  Armando Galarraga was rooked out of a perfect game by a blown call on the last out.  In another situation, the Giants scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth vs. the Mets a few weeks ago, only to have the home plate ump blow the call by five miles and call the runner out.  The Mets won in extra innings.  The call literally cost the Giants the game.  Not that it weighed heavily in helping them lose the game.  The winning run had already crossed the plate before being called out.

I was wondering this last week how an official scorer deals with blown calls by umpires.  They have to come up with reasons as to why a play was a hit or error, wild pitch or passed ball. Would the runner have been out?  Should the catcher have stopped the pitch with ordinary effort?  But what of a blown call where the scorer has to make a decision?  If a safe runner is called out, a scorekeeper can give a putout and assist.  What if the reverse happens?  Does the scorer have to give the batter a hit, even though he was out?

As soon as I saw the Galarraga/Joyce replay, I wondered if the official scorer could have ruled an error on the play, at least preserving a no-hitter, as a way to "make up" for the blown call.  It was a difficult play, first baseman coming off the bag to get the ball and the pitcher covering.  The first baseman has to hit a moving target in the pitcher while timing his arrival at first base.  Those two players have practiced that play thousands of times a year since they were eight years old.  It's common for a pitcher to stutter step if the throw isn't quite right and miss the bag with his feet.  A throwing error can happen easily.

So why, especially given that the official scorer was tied to covering Tiger baseball in some way, could he not have scored an error?  He could have given an error to the first baseman.  Or maybe to the pitcher as a way to say "here's the price for your no-hitter."  The umpire gives no reason as to why he ruled the runner safe.  A number of things could have happened in his mind.  He could have beat the throw.  The pitcher could have missed the bag, or he could have bobbled the ball.  We don't know at the time the play happened.  So why could not a scorer have ruled in the same manner?  A throwing error with a no-hitter going in the books one batter later would be preferable to giving the batter a hit, knowing that he never got one to begin with.

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