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Published: Thursday, 6/3/2010

Blown call shows an umpire's job isn't black and white

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT — As tears welled in his eyes, Jim Joyce walked out of the tunnel and onto the field at Comerica Park Thursday to face the demons he left behind the night before.

A Major League umpire for 21 years, Joyce was involved in one of the most infamous plays in baseball history Wednesday night when he ruled Cleveland Indians runner Jason Donald was safe on a ground ball to first base on what would have been the 27th out of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga's perfect game.

TV replays clearly showed Donald was out on a close play, and Joyce admitted his error after the game, even going so far as walking to the Tigers' clubhouse and apologizing to Galarraga.

That didn't stop the story from exploding into a national topic of conversation, with the White House even weighing in on the debate, and it also didn't prevent Joyce from returning to his house of horrors.

The Central Catholic and Bowling Green State University graduate, who now lives in the state of Oregon, was calling balls and strikes as the home plate umpire in the Tigers' 12-6 win over the Indians Thursday.

Joyce and the rest of the umpiring crew were greeted with a nice round of applause from the Tigers' faithful mixed with a smattering of boos when they walked to home plate before the game.

“When I walked out of this door [from the umpire's room], I didn't know what to expect to be honest with you,” Joyce said. “When I walked down that tunnel and I got the reception that I did from the Tiger fans, I had to wipe the eyes. I didn't expect that.”

The moment became even more emotional for Joyce when Detroit manager Jim Leyland sent Galarraga out to present the Tigers' lineup card.

Galarraga, who was called up to Detroit from the Mud Hens on May 16, and Joyce shook hands and exchanged pats on the shoulder.

“That's another thing I didn't expect,” Joyce said. “That shows me a lot of class. It shows me the sportsmanship that he holds, and his inner being is right there with the best of them.”

Galarraga said he holds no ill will toward Joyce and is at peace with the decision by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig not to overturn Joyce's call and give him a perfect game.

“It's part of the game,” Galarraga said. “When you think about it better, you realize nobody's perfect. I'm happy with the guy.”

Although he doesn't have the honor of throwing the 21st perfect game in Major League history and the first for the Tigers, Galarraga isn't walking away empty-handed.

Chevrolet awarded Galarraga a brand-new 2010 Corvette convertible in a pregame ceremony, which drew a large ovation from the crowd and his teammates.

“It was a really good feeling,” Galarraga said. “I'm just so surprised by everything that's happened with the car and all this stuff. I'm shocked, because it's like, ‘You have a new car now. What are you going to do with it?' Enjoy it.”

While the Tigers and Joyce seemed ready to move on from the incident, several politicians weren't.

“I hope that baseball awards a perfect game to that pitcher,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a press briefing Thursday.

A reporter then informed Mr. Gibbs that baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had already decided against any corrective action, and Mr. Gibbs responded, “They're not going to do it? We're going to work on an executive order.”

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm also expressed her displeasure.

She issued a proclamation Thursday saying that Galarraga pitched a perfect game on Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians and made similar comments during a radio interview, noting that Galarraga “was robbed.”

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow urged Mr. Selig to invoke the “Best Interests of the Game” clause to declare Galarraga's performance perfect, and Rep. John D. Dingell said he'll introduce a congressional resolution asking Major League Baseball to overturn the call.

Mr. Selig issued a statement during Thursday's game applauding the “dignity and class” of the Tigers organization and the “courage” of Joyce to come clean about his error.

“Jim's candor illustrates why he has earned the respect of on-field personnel throughout his accomplished career in the Major Leagues since 1989,” the commissioner said. “As Jim Joyce said in his postgame comments, there is no dispute that last night's game should have ended differently.”

But Mr. Selig wouldn't go as far as overturning Joyce's call, instead saying he and his advisers will look at broader remedial measures.

“While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed,” Mr. Selig said. “Given last night's call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay, and all other related features.”

Major League Baseball has used instant replay for home runs only since late in the 2008 season. The NFL instituted instant replay in 1999 while the NBA began using it in 2002.

Despite the uproar, Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said one simple fact remains — Joyce is still a great umpire.

“He's a heck of an umpire and a heck of a person,” Laird said. “He made one bad call. It showed a lot of class for him to come in here and apologize and be a man about it, and then to want to come [back] and umpire [Thursday]. He did a heck of a job.”

Joyce said he gave no consideration to backing out of his assignment Thursday.

“No. Never. Not even in my lowest moment,” Joyce said. “If I wouldn't have shown up here, I don't think I could have faced myself.”

Joyce said his nerves finally died down in the second or third inning and he found some level of normalcy about the fifth inning. But he also understands his incorrect call may haunt him for the rest of his career.

“I didn't want my 15 minutes of fame to be this,” Joyce said. “I would have much rather it been making a great call at home plate in the World Series. That's what I want my fame to be, [but really] I hope my 15 minutes are over.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.



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