Jim Joyce is one of the best umpires in baseball. Anyone who knows baseball will tell you that.
Joyce is a 28-year veteran ump who has worked All-Star games, playoff games and three World Series. But no one remembers all that. The memory of Joyce that sticks in everyone’s mind is of June 2, 2010.
On that night, Joyce was the first base umpire as the Detroit Tigers hosted the Cleveland Indians. That night, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was working on a perfect game and was down to his final out. Then Joyce inadvertently etched his name in the history books.
Jason Donald of the Indians hit a sure-out ground ball, but ran hard to the bag, wanting to make the Tigers work hard to get him out and give their young pitcher the perfect game. The ball beat Donald to the bag, but Joyce inexplicably called him safe.
Back then, there was no replay that the umps could turn to in order to overturn the call. Had there been, it would have been an easy one to get right. Instead, Joyce’s call stood and the perfect game was gone. Once Joyce saw a replay of the call after the game, he was angry with himself, but there was nothing that could be done. He has had to live with that mistake ever since.
Fast forward to today, and once again Joyce has inserted himself into controversy due to an unbelievable mistake that once again benefited the Indians.
In the bottom of the third, the Indians were leading the visiting Houston Astros, 2-1, and had the bases loaded with two outs for Lonnie Chisenhall. A 1-2 pitch from David Paulino bounced in front of the plate and deflected off Chisenhall’s bat, bouncing away from Astros catcher Jason Castro. Watch it here.
Chisenhall walked away from the plate, upset that the count remained 1-2 instead of going to 2-2. Castro didn’t chase the ball because he knew it was a foul ball. But Joyce never signaled it was a foul ball, so the play was still live. Francisco Lindor saw the ball get away and sprinted toward home to score as Joyce never signaled it was a foul ball. Mike Napoli scampered to third and continued on home as Castro was talking to Joyce to try and explain to him that it was a foul ball.
Finally, Joyce called time just before Napoli crossed the plate and well before Jose Ramirez came around all the way from first to score. Joyce called the umpires together to figure out what happened. Apparently, the play is not reviewable under Major League Baseball’s convoluted replay rules. There’s no excuse for that.
Since none of the umps saw the ball deflect off Chisenhall’s bat, and they were not allowed to go to a video review of the play, the play was ruled as a wild pitch and two runs scored. Ramirez was sent back to second, as he should have been.
It boggles the mind how an umpire who is within a few feet of the action could not hear the unmistakable sound of the ball hitting the bat. It is baffling how some plays are not able to be challenged by managers. And it is unbelievable how a major gaffe by Jim Joyce benefited the Cleveland Indians once again.
Joyce is a Toledo native, so maybe he is subliminally trying to help a team from the Buckeye State. He is a true professional, however – just ask anyone who knows the game, so that can’t be it. It’s just one of those unexplainable quirks of life.
Joyce’s gaffe in 2010 helped pave the way for the use of replay in baseball. Maybe Joyce’s gaffe today can pave the way toward making all baseball plays reviewable.