Baseball, Sports

Free Legal Advice For Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig

Last night, I was momentarily distracted from watching the Mets blow another Johan Santana start by the game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. As most sports fans already know, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game last night — only he didn’t get credit for it, because umpire Jim Joyce blew the call on the 27th and final out. Joyce called Indians featherweight hitter Jason Donald safe at first. Replays later showed conclusively that Donald was out.

This morning, the sports world is buzzing about what (if anything) can be done about this terrible miscarriage of justice. The legal world is buzzing too. Baseball and the law work so perfectly together because they are both rules-oriented systems where the rules are designed to promote justice and fair play. People care deeply about the rules of law, and the rules of baseball, so it’s really not that surprising to see lawyers weigh in about Galarraga’s should-have-been perfect game.

The WSJ Law Blog did a good job of collecting some of the reaction to Joyce’s blown call. Most of the talk centers around forcing the resistant-to-change game of baseball to adopt instant replay.

But there are other rules-oriented ways to handle the situation. An Above the Law reader has started a Facebook petition to get Major League Baseball to adopt “The Galarraga Rule” …

Shorge Sato alerted us to his Facebook petition earlier this morning:

Everyone knows that Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga got robbed of his “perfect game” by Umpire Jim Joyce’s blown “safe” call last night. Even Joyce admitted it. Although the game is over, it’s not official: pursuant to MLB Official Rule 10.01(a), the official scorer has 24 hours from the end of the game to make any changes to the official statistics.

What happened last night was clearly an instance of “E-ump” – an error by the Umpire. Under the current MLB rules, an error can only be charged to a fielder (Rule 10.12) and the official scorer cannot “make any decision that conflicts with an umpire’s decision.” (Rule 10.01(b)(1). So, the other petitions and calls for the official scorer to “fix” the score to award Galarraga with a perfect game are well-intentioned but not workable, at least, not under the present rules with which the official scorer must strictly comply. However, the MLB rules can be amended, and if amended within 24 hours, the official scorer could credit Galarraga with the perfect game he deserves by changing the official score within the designated 24 hours. Even if the rules are not amended within 24 hours (because has any Facebook petition ever worked?) to benefit Galarraga, the rules should still be amended just in case there is ever another “Galarraga game,” not only to protect the deservingly perfect pitcher, but also to protect the losing team: following last night’s game, the pressure on an umpire to simply call a “third out” to preserve a perfect game and avoid the scorn being laid on Joyce, instead of calling it how he sees it, will be unavoidable. An amendment to the rules would thus preserve the integrity of the game.

Sounds promising. I mean, we’ve already got an official scorer, why can’t he or she be empowered to dutifully record what happened in the game? Last night, a man got 28 outs in a row, and didn’t get credit for a 27 out perfect game. Why can’t the scorer record it as such?

But what would the rule look like? To paraphrase Toby Ziegler: don’t come to me with a thing without being able to show me the thing.

Happily, Sato doesn’t disappoint:

Here is how I think an Amended Rule 10 should read:

AMEND Rule 10.01(b)(1), third sentence, to read: “The official scorer shall not make any decision that conflicts with an umpire’s decision<, except as provided hereunder in Rule 10.12(g)>.”

AMEND Rule 10.12, first sentence, to read, “Except as provided hereunder in
Rule 10.12(g), an error is a statistic charged against a fielder whose action assisted the team on offense, as set forth in this Rule 10.12.”

ADD new rule 10.12(g) [The “Galarraga Rule”], as follows: “The official scorer has the discretion to change any statistics caused by or arising subsequently to an umpire’s error, under the following limited circumstances: (1) where an umpire makes a disputed call as to whether a baserunner resulting from a ball put into play is safe or out at first base;
(2) where the disputed call would, if determined later to be an “out,” have resulted in the end the game and the resulting statistics from a change in the disputed call would show that, but for the disputed call, the pitcher for the winning team has pitched a “perfect game,” which means a complete game, no-hit shutout victory where no baserunner for the losing team reached base safely by way of a hit, fielder’s error, hit-by-pitch, base-on-balls, passed ball on a strikeout or otherwise;
(3) where the batter immediately following the batter who reached first base safely on the disputed call records or causes the final out of the ballgame and does not reach base safely as a result of a hit, fielder’s error, hit-by-pitch, base-on-balls, passed-ball on a strikeout or otherwise;
(4) where a change in the disputed call would not, but for a change in the official statistics, have had a material impact on the game’s outcome;
(5) where, within 24 hours of the game, the umpire that makes the disputed call submits an official statement to the President of Major League Baseball admitting that he or she made a mistake on the disputed call and requeting that the call be changed from “safe” to an “out” resulting in the end of the game;
and (6) where the winning team (i) immediately disputed the call on the field and (ii) subsequent to the game, immediately petitions the official scorer and/or the President of Major League Baseball for a change in the official statistics pursuant to this Rule 10.12(g).

In exercising discretion, the official scorer may take into account other evidence regarding the disputed call as well as any objection stated by the manager for the losing team within the 24 hours review period. The official scorer is not required to change the disputed call from “safe” to an “out” solely because the conditions of this Rule are met. In the event that the official scorer changes the final statistics pursuant to this Rule 10.12(g), any statistics that would have otherwise been recognized and recorded subsequent to the disputed call shall be negated to the extent that they would not have been recognized or recorded once the disputed call is overturned.”

Sold!

Of course this rule change doesn’t at all address what baseball fans are really worried about: a bad call on the field that changes the outcome of a game. This change wouldn’t ameliorate a Don Denkinger situation. But it would at least give an unknown pitcher like Galaragga the historical credit he deserves for last night’s performance.

And yes, fixing major league baseball is one of the best things you can do with a law degree.

An Imperfect Game: Lessons From a Blown Call [WSJ Law Blog]
Petition MLB to Create the “Galarraga Rule” – It’s Not Too Late! [Facebook]

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