There is something charming about a game that relies on human judgment and accepts human fallibility in enforcing its rules. And there is something reassuring about a game that turns to the latest technology to double-check humans and get its judgment calls right.
There is nothing satisfying about a game — in this case, our national pastime — that relies on humans most of the time and technology some of the time.
That weird dichotomy, as every baseball fan knows by now, was on display Wednesday, when Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was robbed of a perfect game by a close call at first base. The umpire got the call wrong, which umpires will do. The replay proved it, which replays are good at. What's so unsatisfying about this particular bad call, though, is that if the play had been different, the replay would have been allowed to correct it. If the hit that ruined Galarraga's masterpiece had been a home run, baseball's rules would have let the umpire check the call against the replay and reverse it if he'd been wrong.
That's because baseball allows use of the replay to check an umpire's call only in the case of a disputed home run. That may make sense to Commissioner Bud Selig, but it's hard to find anyone else who buys it, especially after Wednesday's snafu.
Selig has long argued that he's not against change but that he worries about replays slowing down games or otherwise interfering with the rhythms of our languid summer sport. But he lost his credibility on the issue when he authorized the use of replays in evaluating home runs; now he's caught between a little belief in progress and a little faith in human judgment — and less than full regard for either.
Galarraga's perfect game was taken from him in the ninth inning, with two outs; had the call been correct, it would have been only the 21st perfect game in history. Who is to blame? Not the umpire but Selig's halfhearted embrace of technology.
Indeed, it is a testament to the game's humanity that the most forthright analysis of the umpire's call came from the umpire himself. Said Jim Joyce after watching the replay: "I just cost that kid a perfect game."