Milt Pappas in the Baseball Ethics Wilderness

Polls say the vast majority of baseball fans wanted Commissioner Bug Selig to over-rule umpire Jim Joyce after the fact and award Armando Galarraga a perfect game. The point of view is purely emotional, and as an ad hoc break with the rules, traditions and practices of the game would be so devastating to baseball’s integrity that I did not expect anyone outside the sport to adopt it. I was very wrong about that. Ex-pitcher, ESPN commentator and blogger Curt Schilling and Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jon Heyman were just a few of the voices calling for Bud to announce that Joyce’s epic mistake, among the thousands and thousands of terrible judgment calls by umpires in the game’s history, should be the one that is changed after the game is over.

But an ex-pitcher who threw a no-hitter himself, Milt Pappas, did us all a favor by showing the ethics wilderness this kind of thinking can cause to sprout overnight. First, Pappas wistfully suggests that if Galarraga’s lost perfect game can be saved by Selig, maybe his 38-year-old not-quite-perfect no-hitter  can be similarly burnished. Pappas also believes that a perfect game is so important, umpires should consciously try to one along. if I interpret his “logic” properly, he thinks that on Joyce’s erroneous call the umpire should have called the runner “out” on a close call even if he was safe.

Back in 1972, Pappas, then with the Chicago Cubs, had a perfect game with one out to go. With one ball and two strikes on the Padres’ Larry Stahl, Pappas would have gotten a strikeout and his immortality if home plate ump Bruce Froemming had called any of the next three pitches, all close to the strike zone, strike three. Froemming did not, however, and Stahl got to first base on a walk. Although at the time Pappas admitted that the umpire was right, he is now using Galarraga’s misfortune to compare it to his own, and blaming Froemming for “robbing” him of a perfect game too.

Here is a portion of his interview with Sports Illustrated:

SI: So you’d be in favor of Bud Selig overturning the call?

MP: Most definitely in that situation. I don’t think instant replay belongs in baseball with balls and strikes, unless it’s a perfect game. In that instance it should be utilized. Maybe if he reverses this one, he’ll reverse mine.

SI: Immediately after your near-perfect game, you were supportive of Froemming’s calls [Pappas told the Chicago Tribune that his pitches were “borderline but balls”] but you have since criticized him publicly — how come?

MP: …If you look at Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series, the last pitch thrown to [Dale] Mitchell went under his chin, for God’s sake. The umpire knew what was going on, that there was a perfect game going on, and he called him out. Dale Mitchell never said a word. Yet you’ve got Bruce Froemming saying years later that he didn’t know I had a perfect game. How dumb can that be? The umpire didn’t even know what was going on in the course of a ballgame, which was ludicrous. I just don’t understand why he called those pitches balls when there was a perfect game on the line. He’s a very arrogant man. . . . Mine didn’t sink in really until I got home that night, when the phone started ringing and I was watching it on TV and realizing exactly what happened — that I should have had a perfect game.

Pappas excels in reaching the absurd consequences of a flawed concept in record time. Like the other advocates of reversing Joyce’s call, he assumes that a personal achievement is more important than the games themselves. Nobody advocated overturning any of the dozen wretched decisions that marred and helped determine the outcome of last years’ play-offs, but an umpire’s error that didn’t effect the score of a game at all is now being promoted for this radical remedy. Pappas even believes that ball and strikes should be reviewed—not on a bad call that costs a team a championship it earned over 162 games, robs its city’s fans of the glory and joy of the triumph, deprives its 25 players, manager, coaches and ownership of the career distinction, but only to save a perfect game. This is so clearly a case of warped priorities that it couldn’t and wouldn’t hold. Post-game review would inevitably spread to game result-changing calls.

Pappas also hopes that if a mistaken call could be reversed to give Galarraga back his perfect game, why not go ahead (or rather back) and remedy that pesky walk to Larry Stahl? There’s no statute of limitations, except the one the Commissioner will have destroyed by reversing Joyce—the one that says once the game is over, it’s over, and in the books. Who knows? Maybe dozens or hundreds or thousands of calls will warrant reversal…all so we can have one more perfect game.

That’s not all, though. Pappas thinks umpires should call balls strikes—and, I would assume, hits outs—to help a pitcher get his perfect game. This is the exactly the unethical attitude that Jim Joyce rejected, with unfortunate results, sadly. A manufactured perfect game that requires an umpire to violate his integrity and intentionally slant his calls is no perfect game at all, and devalues every one of the legitimate perfect games thrown in the Major Leagues.

Pappas, like many others but in a illuminatingly extreme way, thinks that assessing what is right can be done in a vacuum, without reference to a particular act’s message, underlying principles, and consequences. The over-simplified question asked on the instant polls, “Do you think Major League Baseball should reverse the umpire’s decision?” ignores all of these, and thus encourages an ethically ignorant answer.

Post Script: In closing the book on Joyce and Galarraga, let me leave you with some final hypotheticals raised by Pappas’s conviction that he was robbed of a perfect game because Bruce Froemming insisted on calling the strike zone the same way he would in any other game.

If you think the Commissioner should change a good faith incorrect call that spoils a perfect game, would you also support reversing an umpire’s intentionally wrong call that gave a pitcher a perfect game he didn’t deserve? If so, then consider this: some observers believed that the home plate umpire in Galarraga’s game was giving him strikes on balls outside the strike zone, as Pappas believes an umpire in such a game should do. If Joyce noticed this—indeed, imagine that he objected to it and told the home plate umpire that it was wrong—would he have been justified in preserving the integrity of the game by intentionally denying Galarraga a perfect game with his safe call, canceling out the results of the rigged strike zone?

2 thoughts on “Milt Pappas in the Baseball Ethics Wilderness

  1. Pingback: Milt Pappas in the Baseball Ethics Wilderness « Ethics Alarms « Ethics Find

  2. Has it occurred to anyone in the middle of this mess that referring to a game with this sort of brouhaha around it (with unprecedented interference with the normal functioning of the game) as a “perfect” game is a little odd?

    I smile when people say “I have 800 friends on Facebook.” If that’s your definition, get ready for fun when someone invokes the Bible on you:

    “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

    I think you might quickly find some backpedaling on what, exactly, one means by “friend”.

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