Jim Joyce, the American league umpire who cost Armando Galaraga a perfect game by missing the what should have been the final out of the game, achieved immediate respect for admitting his mistake and apologizing to the pitcher and the public. Now another umpire, Gary Cederstrom, following Joyce’s lead, has admitted and apologized for a botched call, a wretched called strike on Johnny Damon that ended another Tigers game with a strikeout when it should have been a game-tying ball four (the bases were loaded at the time.)
ESPN commentator John Kruk and baseball blogger Rob Neyer have expressed dismay at the apparent trend, but it is a legitimate cultural shift in ethical standards. Before every play was videotaped, an umpire could insist that “I call ’em as I see ’em!” without losing credibility or having his competence and integrity questioned. Today, however, a terrible call is usually on YouTube for all to see within hours: for an umpire to insist he was right when everyone can see he was dead wrong just leads to the conclusion that he is blind, a fool, or both. It makes practical and ethical sense for an umpire to acknowledge what is obvious, and issuing an apology is a natural next step, carrying the implied promise that “I’ll try to do better the next time.”
Neyer says that he liked it better “the old way.” I can’t imagine why. Obfuscation and denial of professional errors shouldn’t be preferable to honesty and contrition. An umpire who cares about doing his job well and is confident that he is capable of that should be open about when he makes a mistake. Jim Joyce demonstrated that, and established a new, and higher, standard of ethics for the profession. This is how new ethical standards, higher and lower, take hold. Someone’s unexpected handling of a common situation inspires others to do the same, society nods in agreement, and a new standard is set.