Quick, what do Mike Witt, Len Barker and Tom Browning all have in common? Hardcore baseball fans among you will point out that these players are among the 20 major leaguers in history to have thrown a perfect game. But the more casual observer might wonder if they all worked for the same law firm.
And quick, name the first-base umpires for each of those games. Not even the sickest seam-head could answer that question, at least without looking it up on Retrosheet.org, the baseball history website. (Answer: Ted Hendry, Greg Kosc and Mark Hirschbeck, respectively. Thanks, Retrosheet).
Now, what if, on September 30, 1984, Marv Foley of the Texas Rangers hadn't hit a simple ground ball to California Angels second baseman Rob Wilfong, which he fielded cleanly and threw to first to give Mike Witt a perfecto? What if, instead, it were a slow roller, causing Wilfong to charge in, bare-hand the ball and flick it to first baseman Bobby Grich? What if Foley almost beat the throw but didn't, and yet umpire Hendry called him safe, setting off a firestorm of protest on the field, in living rooms across the country and even in the White House? Almost 26 years after the fact, would more fans remember and appreciate Witt and Hendry? And would they be more willing to pay for a signed baseball card from the pair?
Yes, yes, and a definitive yes.
Umpire Jim Joyce committed a grand injustice against Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga when he called Cleveland's Jason Donald safe at first base on June 2, costing Galarraga a perfect game. And to many, a greater malfeasance followed when baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he would not intervene and reverse the call, even though Joyce himself admitted he blew it and apologized to Galarraga, who gave Joyce a sympathetic hug. Lost amidst all the shouting about the call, the commissioner's decision and the need for instant replay was a simple truth: long-term, this incident could end up being the best thing that ever happened to both Joyce and Galarraga.
While past perfectionists like Witt have faded from public view, Joyce and Galarraga will be the subject of endless "worst call in history" anniversary stories. Thanks to the way they both handled the whole affair Galarraga essentially shrugged off the incident as an honest mistake, and Joyce stepped up and admitted his mistake there will always be a market for the pair. Baseball fans love a buddy act. For years after the 1951 "Shot Heard Round the World," Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants, who hit the "Giants Win the Pennant!" home run, and Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the pitcher who gave up the historic hit, made appearances together at collectibles shows, and sold jointly autographed baseballs.
Some smart agent out there should be planning to build the Joyce-Galarraga brand. Although it currently would be a conflict of interest for the duo to give joint lectures about the power of forgiveness no working player can appear too buddy-buddy with an active umpire they should certainly command coin individually. And once they retire, it's easy to envision them, forever intertwined in baseball history, hitting the road to talk to bored corporate employees for a fee, and selling jointly signed pictures of the historic play at the collectibles shows. Nostalgia is big business: just look at how many former professional athletes can still make a living off public appearances. The pair should start thinking about the phrases inscribed above their signatures - perhaps "I cost that kid a perfect game" for Joyce, and "nobody's perfect" for Galarraga.
And "you'll never forget us" for both of them.