Imperfect Selig ditches perfect game

NEW YORK -- Bud Selig had matched Jim Joyce with his own dreadful call, and you wanted to know how a nation felt about its national pastime. You wanted to know how stolen immortality tasted to millions of mortal fans who wanted to keep it and cherish it almost as badly as Armando Galarraga did.

So Hayden Lake, Idaho -- home office of the perfect game -- was the perfect place to start.

"It's really very sad," an 80-year-old fisherman named Don Larsen said. "Those things don't come along too often in a person's life. Everybody's allowed to have a good day, and that kid's good day was taken away from him."

Among the 20 perfect games in the major leagues, Larsen's made the most indelible mark. The Yankee pitched his in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and on Thursday he wished he could've watched replays of Alex Avila jumping into Galarraga's arms the way ol' Yogi jumped into his.

Instead, Larsen rose to morning highlights of Joyce's epic blunder, and to the realization that Galarraga will likely never experience the moment that forever altered Larsen's life.

"I feel sorry for the umpire, and I just feel real badly for the kid," Larsen said. "He's probably wondering right now whose side God is on."

Or whose side the commissioner is on, anyway.

Bud Selig is ready to save his sport from itself. He said so himself when he left the scene of this gruesome accident in time to announce he'll conduct a head-to-toe examination of baseball's umpires, its use of instant replay, and its annoying habit of spitting tobacco juice all over the fans.

But righting an obvious wrong without affecting the result of a game in the process? No, even in the name of fair play, even for the sake of history, the commissioner wasn't about to do that.

Mark it down: Selig will rue this decision and this day. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, when his legacy is debated as hotly as a bang-bang play at first, the commissioner will likely quote Joyce on the subject of the perfect game that wasn't.

"It was the biggest call of my career," Selig will say, "and I kicked the [stuff] out of it."

What a waste of a great opportunity. Everyone conceded the call at first base with two outs in the ninth was as wrong as it gets. Everyone conceded that a reversal of that call, under Selig's best-interests-of-the-game powers, would've kept Detroit's 3-0 victory over Cleveland intact.

Everyone conceded that baseball needs to do everything it can to ensure this never, ever happens again.

But why wait to start performing the required surgery on the next serious injury? Why not operate right away?

Baseball's heart is broken, and Selig had the authority to mend it with compassion and common sense. Instead, he denied Galarraga what was rightfully his, and tossed away the one key that would've liberated Joyce, handing the ump a life sentence of sleepless nights.

Oh, Selig made one other mistake. He praised the Tigers for their "dignity and class" and for conducting themselves as good sports "of the highest order." And while it is true that Galarraga handled this event with uncommon grace, and that Leyland's postgame comments showed respect for the human condition, it is also true Leyland and the Tigers charged at Joyce as he tried to leave the field and all but waved pitchforks and torches in his face.

No 12-year-old with designs on Williamsport needed to see that.

To his credit Galarraga made another kind gesture Thursday, walking the lineup card to the plate and patting a teary-eyed Joyce on the shoulder before the ump returned the pat. But this mutual show of respect and understanding didn't change the afternoon's defining fact:

Selig had a chance to heal his sport, but chose to let it bleed and bleed some more.

"I thought they should've looked at it because it really had no bearing on the game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after a 6-3 victory over Baltimore in the Bronx. "They looked at it, and I compliment them for looking at it. They made their decision, and they must have their reasons. But it's difficult for both gentlemen, Galarraga and Jim Joyce."

More difficult for Joyce, who said his wife and children were already feeling the wrath of outraged fans.

"Jim's a great guy," Andy Pettitte said. "He's one of the umpires who is easy to talk to. He'll tell you, 'Hey, I missed that call,' and he's just a very stand-up guy. I hate to see this happen to an umpire I've had a great relationship with for the last 16 years.

"And for me, as a pitcher, I wish they could've done something for the kid. You're talking about history here, and it's really a shame."

A long way from the Bronx, and close to the lakes and rivers that provide him his bass and salmon and trout, Don Larsen said he nearly fell over when he saw how badly Joyce blew his call at first.

Larsen wasn't sure if he'd reverse the call if given the chance. He was asked how he might've felt had an umpire cost him that perfect Game 5 against Brooklyn.

"It's tough for me to even think about it," Larsen said. "I can't even imagine it."

He doesn't have to. After he'd recorded his 26th out on Oct. 8, 1956, "I said a little prayer," Larsen said. "I took my cap off and faced the outfield and said, 'Oh Lord, just get me through one more.'"

Larsen got Dale Mitchell looking on a 1-2 fastball.

"I've enjoyed my life ever since," the Yankee said. "Damn right."

The imperfect man had pitched the perfect game.

All these years later, like millions of fellow fans, Don Larsen was feeling blue even before the imperfect commissioner ditched the perfect game.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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