You see, this is why I am a lifetime underachiever. Here I am, desperately preparing for a challenging 3-hour seminar, and when Jutgory sends me a story about a controversy over what should count as a “perfect game” in baseball, I can’t think of anything else. Baseball and ethics. The combination gets me every time! So I am writing a post instead of doing my job. Pathetic.
For some reason, 2021 has been a big year for no-hitter definition categories. About ten days ago, Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner threw seven hitless innings against the Atlanta Braves, winning 7-0. However,the game was part of a doubleheader, and this year, as in the 2020 season, twinbills consist of two 7 inning games. Bumgarner’s gem does not officially count as a no-hitter, because MLB declared many years ago that an official no-hitter must be nine innings, a shutout, a victory, and a complete game. This eliminated no-hitters that had been shortened because of rain but were still official games, and the strange games where a pitcher gave up a run or more because of errors or walks. It also wiped out one of the most famous no-hitters of all time.
Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Piratesgave up no hits, walks or baserunners for 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959 in a 0-0 extra-inning tie. He retired 36 consecutive consecutive batters until an error in the 13th ended the perfect game bid, then he gave up a hit, and eventually a run and the game. It was one of the greatest pitching performances of all time, but did not count, sayeth the rule-makers, as a perfect game or a no-hitter.
Not giving Baumgarner credit for a “no-no,” as no-hitters are called by their close friends, seems very unfair. The game was official and not shortened by the elements. He did everything he could do: it wasn’t his fault MLB is lazy and incompetent and decided to allow kiddie rule 7-inning games this season. (The excuse was, as with much that is outrageous, the pandemic.) I am quite sure that baseball didn’t think through such possibilities as a double-header no-hitter, and was stuck with a rule that really shouldn’t have applied.
Some baseball ethics musings on the night of the All-Star Game:
1. Why is MLB going ahead with letting Pete Rose take a bow at the All-Star Game? This made sense–barely–when it was announced, since Pete is a hometown hero despite being a rest-of-the-world slime-ball. But after that announcement, it was revealed that Rose had bet on baseball as a player, thus rendering all of his statements to the contrary the lies they were. He should have been banned from the game just to make sure this latest revelation of his sliminess adds something to his punishment.
2. The best ethics controversy of the 2015 season’s first half? This: Washington National pitcher Max Scherzer was one strike away from a perfect game, leading the Pirates in a 6-0 win, but hit Jose Tabata with a pitch to make it “only” an-hitter. A perfect game is 27 consecutive, outs, and the most difficult feat in baseball. Tabata had fouled off four pitches, before he was hit on the elbow. Many believed that he that Tabata allowed the ball to hit him intentionally, just to wreck the masterpiece. This violates one of the “unwritten rules” of baseball, which are ethics rules. After all, any perfect game could be ruined the same way, and the pitcher is powerless to stop it. This is correctly deemed to be unfair to the pitcher, the fans, and the game.
Real rules also are involved. A batter hit by a pitch is supposed to be awarded first base only if he attempts to avoid a pitch or doesn’t have an opportunity to avoid it. If the ball is in the strike zone when it hits the batter, it should be called a strike, according to the Rule Book: “If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.” (Rule 6.08(b).)
Thus home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski could have awarded Tabata a ball to make it a 3-2 count if he felt Tabata should have gotten out of the way.
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. Continue reading