Putting Asterisks On Personal Achievements

Just a couple days ago, I played my first round of 18 holes with my brother at the Victory Links golf course in Blaine. We had played nine holes about 20 times, but never had we played an entire round. We made it to the first hole, which was a par 4, and I was the first to tee off. I pulled out our huge, brand-new driver, and hit a beautiful drive down the left side of the fairway, and the ball eventually came to rest in the short rough. No problem, I honestly hit the ball better when it’s in the rough rather than the fairway. For my second shot, I pulled out a 7 iron. Typically, I do a great job of getting the ball near the green, but it always becomes a struggle to get it on the green. To my surprise, not only did I lob a high-arcing shot just like the pros, but I also was able to hit it near the pin. When it came to rest, it was on the back of the green, about 30 feet from the hole.

As for my brother, he was struggling a bit with the hole, so I was able to amble over to the green and wait while he gave his ball a tour of the golf course. Now, I am not a good golfer by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, I just hit two amazing shots to get on the green of a par 4, but my handicap belongs somewhere in the neighborhood of 45. Even though I am not that great of a golfer, my mind started to wander while I was waiting on the green. I’m on the green in two. I’m putting for birdie. There’s no way I’ll make it…hell, I struggle with making 5 foot putts…but I’m putting for birdie!

Finally, after what felt like 10 minutes after my ball came to rest on the green, I was placing the head of my putter behind the ball. I already knew the slope of the green: downhill, and the ball will curve to the right. I pulled the head back, then hit the ball. Halfway to the hole, I knew that I had hit it too hard, but the slope was carrying it directly to the hole. My brother was standing right next to the hole, watching my ball roll towards him. I’m going to get a birdie! My first ever birdie! Holy crap!

Within a single second, my joy turned to disappointment. Just to mimic the caddies in the PGA, my brother and I sometimes don’t remove the pin from the hole until the ball is within a 10 foot radius. Unfortunately for me, my brother was so engrossed in watching my ball that he forgot to remove the pin, and I did end up striking the ball a little too hard. It hit the pin just slightly off-center and bounced out, coming to rest about a foot behind the hole from where I was standing. My brother realized his mistake, and then removed the pin and kicked the ball into the hole, saying something like, “Oh, I wonder how that happened?” If the pin hadn’t been in the hole, I had a good feeling that the ball would have gone in.

Armando Galarraga, even though your achievement would have been infinitely more famous than mine…I feel your pain.

By now, you likely know that Armando Galarraga, who was just recalled from Triple-A to replace the recently traded Dontrelle Willis, pitched 8 2/3 innings of perfect baseball, only to lose it on a blown call from 1st base umpire Jim Joyce. He thought Jason Donald had beaten Galarraga’s foot while Galarraga was covering first base when Donald hit a grounder far to the right of first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Replays showed that Galarraga had caught Cabrera’s throw and had his foot on 1st base about half a step before Donald’s foot hit the bag.

Although the magnitude of the events certainly differ, there are still some parallels between my near-birdie and Galarraga’s near-perfect game. My brother probably felt worse about me losing my chance at a birdie more than I did. It seems like Jim Joyce is more upset about screwing up Galarraga’s perfect game than Galarraga is upset at Joyce. My brother decided that I technically got a birdie on the hole. Some people are calling for MLB to recognize yesterday’s Tigers-Indians game as being a perfect game for Galarraga.* Others are jokingly saying it’s the first ever 28 out perfect game.

* A prime example comes from Dave Cameron at FanGraphs. However, I have one argument. The Twins lost Game 3 against the Mariners on a blown call at 2nd base in the 10th inning when Matt Tolbert’s throw to J.J. Hardy clearly beat the runner, but the umpire called the runner safe. On this same play, Ryan Langerhans was able to go from 2nd to home to score the winning run. If Cameron wants MLB to recognize Galarraga’s game as a perfect game, then I, along with many other fans would argue that any game that ends on a controversial call must have that call reviewed. Galarraga should have a perfect game, and the Twins should not have lost in 10 innings to the Mariners. Maybe they still would have lost the game…but it shouldn’t have happened as early as it did.

In the case of my potential birdie, my brother awarded it to me. I still have the scorecard (though that’s more because I’ve been too lazy to remove it from my car), but I can’t help but see a giant, invisible asterisk next to that 3 as my score for the first hole. Likewise, even if MLB did do something to change the outcome of the Tigers-Indians game, I think some would argue that Galarraga would deserve an asterisk next to his name in the record books. Plus, Trevor Crowe (he grounded out after Donald’s “infield single”) would have his final at-bat erased as well. I don’t see Bud Selig or MLB doing anything to give Galarraga a perfect game. Umpires have made bad calls before, and if MLB decides that they can make a change this huge after a game has been finished, then they would have a hard time justifying why the same couldn’t be done for the end of the Twins-Mariners game. “Oh, it’s not significant enough.” What if the Mariners or Twins are tied for a playoff spot at the end of the season? Does it become significant then?

Armando Galarraga would have joined history as the 21st player to pitch a perfect game if Jim Joyce had made the correct call last night. However, rather than becoming one of the harder names to identify when you try this Sporcle quiz 50 years from now, he has probably now become the most famous player to ever lose a perfect game despite being so close to finishing it.

To play off a Captain Jack Sparrow quote from the first Pirates of the Caribbean: “This is the day you almost witnessed a perfect game.”

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3 Responses to “Putting Asterisks On Personal Achievements”

  1. Cronus Says:

    “Umpires have made bad calls before, and if MLB decides that they can make a change this huge after a game has been finished, then they would have a hard time justifying why the same couldn’t be done for the end of the Twins-Mariners game.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_(fallacy)

    What if the Mariners or Twins are tied for a playoff spot at the end of the season? Does it become significant then?

    “What lies north of the North Pole?” – Steven Hawking

    Add an asterisk if you want. It should be changed.

    • Andrew Says:

      It sounds like Bud Selig won’t make any changes to yesterday’s game, and I think that’s the right call. Besides, as Galarraga was quoted yesterday (paraphrased): “In the future, I will tell my son that I pitched a perfect game. It’s not in the record books, but I know it happened.”

      As I said before, Galarraga won’t have the fame for throwing a perfect game, but he’ll definitely have one of the most famous one-hitters for all of history.

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