Monmouth University law class tries to save Armando Galarraga's (almost) perfect game
It’s one of the most infamous mistakes in sports history.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied a perfect game in 2010 when an umpire erroneously ruled that the 27th batter, with two outs in the ninth inning, had beaten a throw to first base.
The umpire and the batter both admitted the call was wrong, but Major League Baseball’s commissioner refused to overturn the umpire’s decision and award Galarraga the 21st perfect game in the sport’s 134-year history. Support to overturn came from the White House, the governor of Michigan and all corners of the media.
Add a new group to that list: 16 members of a Monmouth University “Law and Society” course and their professor, retired New Jersey Superior Court judge Lawrence Jones, have submitted an 82-page document to current MLB commissioner Rob Manfred that makes a case for Galarraga’s addition to the list of perfect games.
Galarraga, who is now retired from baseball and living in Texas, was so touched by the effort that he conducted a Zoom meeting with the students to tell his story and express appreciation.
“It’s amazing, what they’ve done,” he told the Asbury Park Press via phone last week. “I’m floored.”
The point of the project is not just to help Galarraga, although that is certainly its focus.
As Gabriella Griffo, a junior in the course, explained: “It’s about how flexible law really is.”
REWIND: Missed call leaves Detroit's Armando Galarraga one out shy of perfect game
DEBATE: Should baseball give Galarraga his perfect game back?
'It's about promoting fairness'
Jones, a Toms River resident who remains active in law as a mediator, typically gears the course around a semester-long project. Many of his students are interested in attending law school. Few of them are avid baseball fans, but he saw Galarraga’s story as an ideal topic.
The perfect game is one of the most hallowed achievements in sports — there hasn't been one in 10 years, although Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw was on his way there last week before his manager pulled him after seven innings out of concern for his arm.
In Galarraga's situation, the classy way he and umpire Jim Joyce handled the mistake provided an enduring lesson in sportsmanship.
“This was something, when it first happened, that really resonated with millions of people around the globe — people who are not necessarily sports fans, and that was the point,” he said. “When you talk about the intersection between legal principles and social principles, it seemed to me this was a classic case for analysis and discussion. You’re studying how rules are created, how rules are interpreted, principles of fairness and equality — this situation is analogous to so many areas of law.”
Citing both non-baseball case law and examples from Major League Baseball’s past, the students’ document argues that Manfred should exercise his authority to right a blatant wrong.
In baseball terms:
The notion that an umpire’s ruling is final has been dispensed with in the past. In 1983, baseball’s commissioner reversed an umpire’s ruling that Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett was out because he used too much pine tar on his bat when he hit a home run against the New York Yankees.
Major League Baseball has changed the status of a historical achievement long after the fact. In 1991, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Harvey Haddix was removed from the sport’s no-hitter list 32 years after he threw what was classified at the time as a no-hitter. (He had thrown 12 perfect innings, but lost the perfect game on an error and a hit in the 13th inning.)
The institution of instant replay, which occurred in part because of the Galarraga incident, acknowledges that umpires make mistakes that sometimes require correction.
The circumstances surrounding Galarraga’s game are unique enough, including indisputable visual evidence and public agreement by all three parties (pitcher, baserunner, umpire) that the call was wrong, that reversing Joyce’s call won’t open a “can of worms” or create “slippery slope” of future call reversals.
Outside of baseball, the students' document cites court decisions supporting the concept that, to quote a ruling from one case (Westinghouse Electric Corp. v. United Electrical Co., 1946), “a wrong suffered without a remedy is a blot upon the sound administration of justice.”
In other words, getting it right is more important than anything else.
“This is about the spirit of the rule and why rules are created,” said Monmouth junior Antonio Bulzomi, one of the document’s authors. “It’s about promoting fairness.”
Excited for homework
The course took place in the fall semester, the report was delivered to Major League Baseball’s headquarters in February, and if nothing else, it was a valuable experience for participants.
“I never thought advocating could be something like this,” said Hannah Latshaw, a senior from Wall who will pursue a graduate degree in social work. “I always thought about legal terms, not societal terms. This class and this situation has helped us learn to advocate in a much broader spectrum.”
Georgia Watkins, a sophomore in the course who hails from Australia and is a member of Monmouth’s swimming team, said she’d never watched baseball before but became enthralled with the project nonetheless.
“It made you excited to do homework for it, which sounds really nerdy, but I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It made me consider studying law.”
For everyone involved, getting to hear directly from Galarraga was icing on the cake. He not only discussed the game in question, but his journey from Venezuela to America and his graceful response to Joyce’s call.
“You hear that (professional) athletes are condescending and pretentious; he had such an incredible story,” said Griffo, who hails from Plumsted. “It makes the fact that he did not get the perfect game that much more bittersweet.”
Griffo, who captains Monmouth’s Model United Nations team and plans to attend law school and study immigration law, found the experience to be galvanizing.
“To see this overturned would be awesome,” she said.
Galarraga is not expecting that. But he recognizes the big-picture value of the Monmouth students’ quest, one that reaches way beyond sports.
“It’s a great job by them,” he told the Asbury Park Press. “They saw something not right and they want to prove a point. I think that’s good. That’s what leads to progress.”
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game appealed by Monmouth U students