Joyce's legacy now includes imperfect call
Ump: I had a great angle, and I missed the call
Jim Joyce has a reputation for being a good umpire. And for some, he's better than good.
Yankees catcher Jorge Posada calls him "one of the best in the league." Cleveland's Russell Branyan said Joyce "has eyes like a hawk" and "ice water in his veins."
"To me, there is no more conscientious umpire in the Major Leagues than Jim Joyce," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He gives you a hellacious effort every time."
But words can't always make a wrong feel right. Joyce's 21-year Major League umpiring career, a run highlighted by All-Star Games, playoff games and the 2001 World Series, will forever be overshadowed by an imperfect moment at Comerica Park that ruined Armando Galarraga's quest for perfection.
Joyce blew a call, the most important of his life, and he knew it.
"It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the [stuff] out of it," he said. "I just cost that kid a perfect game after he pitched his [butt] off all night."
With two outs in the ninth inning, Cleveland's Jason Donald hit a ground ball to the right side of Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera fielded the ball cleanly and made an accurate throw to Galarraga, who had raced to first base for the throw to end the game.
Joyce, who was positioned behind the bag at first base, called Donald safe.
He was wrong.
"I had a great angle, and I missed the call," he said. "I really thought he beat the ball. At that time, I thought he beat the ball. After I heard from the Tigers, who had obviously seen a replay, I asked the guy in the room to cue up the play as soon as we got in here, and I missed it from here to that wall."
Joyce's call made history by changing history. An out would have given Galarraga a perfect game, the third perfecto in the big leagues this season behind Oakland's Dallas Braden and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, and the first time in history that three perfect games were tossed in one season.
The record books and the 21st perfect game in baseball will have to wait.
"That's the nature of the business, that's just the way it is. The players are human, the umpires are human, the managers are human, the writers are human," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We all make mistakes. It's a crying shame. Jimmy's a real good umpire, has been for a long time. He probably got it wrong."
After the call, an angry Leyland rushed the field and gave Joyce a piece of his mind. He resumed the argument after the final out to complete the Tigers' 3-0 victory and Galarraga's one-hitter while the fans at Comerica Park groaned.
"I don't blame the Tigers for anything that was said after the game," Joyce said. "If I had been Galarraga, I would have been the first one in my face, and he never said a word to me. I don't blame one person for their reaction."
Joyce withstood the verbal barrage on all fronts. He made a teary-eyed apology to the pitcher and Galarraga would later say the umpire felt worse about the call than he did.
"He apologized. He feels really bad. Nobody is perfect," Galarraga said. "What am I gonna do? His body language said more than a lot of words. His eyes were watery, he didn't have too say much. His body language said a lot."
How the call will impact Joyce's reputation is yet to be seen. When first-base umpire Don Denkinger blew a call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and the Royals, the call followed him throughout his career.
"I've never been through anything like this," Joyce said. "I worked with Don Denkinger and I know what he went through, but I've never had a moment like this."
Joyce has had better moments. Since he became a full-time umpire in 1989, he's worked 13 postseason series, including two World Series, and two All-Star Games.
"I really feel for him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Because he is one of the better umpires in baseball. I'm talking behind the plate, I'm talking about on the bases, he's very good. Didn't see what happened, I'm sure he feels about as bad as a human can feel right now."
La Russa said he would still call Galarraga's effort a no-hitter, "a perfect game" and if he was Commissioner Bud Selig he would give Galarraga the credit because "the guy got it. I'd give him his perfect game."
"We're all men, not machines. We make mistakes," La Russa said. "He admitted it. What they do is really, really hard, but I guarantee you he'll be one of the guys that will be very upset that he made a mistake in that situation. I think they all would, but I think that will really get him, because he's a pro."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.