Bud Selig may have done many decent or event important things for the game of baseball. He may be well liked by many, even as he is deeply criticized by others. But last night, the commissioner of Major League Baseball faced a test of leadership which clearly demonstrates he is not up to the true challenge of his position. He had, as Mike Lupica so ably stated, the power to act in the interests of the game, and he opted instead for pretension, arrogance and obfuscation.
This is not a case of a questionable call, or a call that may have contributed to the change of momentum in a game: this was a 100% incorrect call on the last play of the game, and in absolutely verifiable fact, the runner was out, and the game was over. Anything that took place after that moment was not part of an official game of baseball. No pitcher has ever had to get 28 outs, when he has already gotten 27 and won the game. Armando Galarraga did, only because an umpire made a mistake, and Bud Selig is too aloof or unconcerned about fairness to act accordingly.
Baseball is a game through which millions of young people, boys and girls, learn about fairness, competition and character. Last night's display showed Major League Baseball to lack a good sense of all three. Armando Galarraga proved himself to be the most unbelievable and praiseworthy of sportsmen, acting graciously and with restraint in the face of what will likely be the clearest moment of him being cheated that he could ever hope to live.
Even the umpire, Jim Joyce, was enough of a man, enough of a straight-shooter, to own up and to apologize. He acknowledged his error, but Major League Baseball will not. Bud Selig was faced with a fundamental question: do you care more about treating players fairly, about honesty and achieving the just outcome, or do you care more about the corporate standing of Major League Baseball... Selig shrunk from a basic human responsibility and chose the phantom value of some twisted pretension to grandeur, to being the kind of leader who is willing to do what no one desires and everyone thinks is unfair: but this is, in this case, pretense and a lack of willingness to take responsibility.
Major League Baseball cannot overrule a call on the field, the argument goes, because that would be disrespectful to the rules of the game. This is arrogance; this is a shortcut; this is a morally vacuous pretension to grandeur in which Bud Selig apparently conceives of himself as so powerful an arbiter of fact and fate that he has the power to make a perfect game into one that was in fact a one-hitter.
In all of this, it is Selig's position that shocks from callous indifference and from verging on delusional. Ultimately, what is still worse for Major League Baseball is that Selig's decision reveals several deep and pervasive problems that both leagues should take a long, hard look at fixing:
- On the one hand, Selig clearly does not believe anyone in baseball could respect the fact that this was an extraordinary circumstance and a once-in-a-century case where the call was not in fact about whether or not the game ended or should have ended, but had ended, period;
- On the other, and this is far more serious, the logic of Selig's decision not to reverse the blown call is clearly that doing so would open a floodgate and that baseball would suddenly find the truth of countless bad calls revealed, slowing down games, calling the sport into question, and undermining the corporate image Selig seeks to craft.