Bud Selig had an opportunity to do something historic for his sport on Thursday.
Major League Baseball's Commissioner could've essentially hit the "edit" button, and altered an event that many fans and observers -- not just in baseball, but throughout the culture as a whole -- saw as a wrong. He could've reversed one of the worst calls in baseball history, a decision that video evidence showed was utterly incorrect.
With the authority that his title gives him, Selig had a chance to reward the Detroit Tigers' Armando Galarraga with the perfect game that virtually everyone familiar with the story believes he pitched. He could've reversed umpire Jim Joyce's misguided split-second decision, and ruled Cleveland's Jason Donald out at first base, rather than safe.
Most everyone would've agreed with the ruling. Many would've applauded Selig for doing the right thing. Galarraga would've received affirmation for his achievement. Joyce would've been relieved of the suffering -- self-inflicted or otherwise -- he's endured since realizing he made a terrible mistake.
But this time, Selig made the right call. He chose not to change what happened on the field.
When baseball created the Commissioner position, the office holder was given great authority. More specifically:
Under the Major League Agreement, the new Commission was broadly empowered to "investigate, either upon complaint or upon his own initiative, an act, transaction or practice, charged, alleged or suspected to be detrimental to the best interest of the national game of baseball, (and to determine and take) any remedial, preventive or punitive action (he deemed appropriate)."
More than 20 years later, however, it was decided that perhaps the powers of the office were too broad. Rather than having the wide-ranging, absolute authority that he once enjoyed, the Commissioner's hammer carried a bit less weight. As long as conduct "conformed with all major league rules and regulations," the Commissioner could not rule that it was not in "the best interests in baseball."
Which brings us to Selig's decision. Would overturning Joyce's call have been the right thing to do for his sport?
Those in favor of reversing the decision point to previous rulings in baseball's history as precedent. In 1983, Kansas City's George Brett had a home run taken off the board versus the New York Yankees when umpire Tim McClelland ruled that too much of Brett's bat was covered with pine tar. The Royals filed a protest, which American League president Lee MacPhail upheld. In his ruling, MacPhail said that Brett hadn't violated "the spirit of the rules." The bat shouldn't have been allowed to be used in future games, but the home run shouldn't have been nullified. The ballgame was eventually resumed from the top of the ninth inning, the point of Brett's home run.
So there you go, right? Baseball changed an umpire's call before, so why not do it again?
Except that MacPhail realized that McClelland incorrectly interpreted a rule. (A rule that none of the umpiring crew seemed aware of until Yankees manager Billy Martin brought it to their attention, by the way.) That's not what happened last Wednesday night in Detroit. Joyce just blew the call. An incorrect decision, to be sure. But he believed Donald beat Miguel Cabrera's throw to first base (or Galarraga's touch of the bag). No misinterpretation of the rules took place.
Rules provide the structure that hold all sports, not just baseball, together. Someone -- even if it's the person who has the power to do so -- stepping in and deciding that the rules shouldn't apply, just this once, is tinkering with how these games work. What happens on the field is supposed to be the outcome. Even if the wrong call being made played a factor in that.
Galarraga has to live with what happened on that field. And so does Joyce.
One of the justifications for overturning the call has been to let Joyce off the hook for all the angst he's been feeling, all the abuse he's taken from media and fans. But that's part of the job. A baseball player has to live with striking out in a key situation or serving up a late-inning home run. If he failed in a key situation, with all the pressure on, he's "a choker." Shouldn't an umpire have to deal with the same consequences? Didn't Joyce essentially "choke" during that play at first base?
I'm not saying this is what factored into Selig's decision. Maybe he really did cop out of making a tough decision, as so many seem to believe. And if Selig really had no intention of overturning this call when issuing a statement to the press, he should've been honest about it and said so. But given the groundswell of support for Galarraga and Joyce, could it really be argued that the Commissioner took the path of least resistance?
And might not it truly be in "the best interests of baseball" to do exactly what Selig said baseball would do in light of this event? To "examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features" involving the officiating of his sport?
There will be repercussions from this. Instant replay is almost certain to become a bigger part of baseball as a result of this almost perfect game. The technology is available. How can its use be denied when utilizing slow-motion replays, zoom lenses and multiple camera angles would more than likely ensure that the correct calls are made?
But how deeply into the game should its influence reach? There has to be room for judgment and discretion. And there are plays in which an either-or, right-or-wrong decision is necessary. These aren't factors that can be considered in mere moments and hours. Even when the majority of public opinion says otherwise.
The right call has to be made here. And this time around, Selig ruled correctly.