Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Almost Perfect Game and Social Construction

In the 80s and 90s, the heyday of post-modernism, the argument was not infrequently made that much if not everything was socially constructed. Facts were not of the world, but of human creation. It is true that a red light means stop, not because there is anything essentially stop-inducing about the color red but because we decided that is what it would mean. And so it was with things that were less obviously human decided.

How much comes from us is an interesting question, but in the game of baseball truth is indeed socially constructed. Did the runner miss third base? The video tape is irrelevant, the umpire's call creates the reality. "He missed the call! He missed the call!" is the cry that separates material reality from baseball reality. The manager can kick dirt, turn his hat around backwards, and scream in the ump's face, but his call determines what is true and what is false in between the foul lines.

And so it was that Armando Galarraga -- far from a future legend of the game -- was one batter away from pitching only the 20th perfect game in the century and a half (that's almost one million pitched games) that there have been in the entire history of professional baseball. The 27th batter he faced, hit the ball to the first baseman who flipped to Galaragga himself covering the bag which he touched a half step before the runner. But Jim Joyce, the umpire at first base called him safe costing Galaragga likely his only shot at baseball immortality.

Everyone -- Joyce included -- holds that he blew the call and Galaragga should have gotten the perfect game. The commissioner, Bud Selig, who has the power to alter baseball reality, could have reversed the call and post hoc given Galaragga the perfect game. But he said that he would not do it. Baseball reality is decided by the minor deities on the field, not to be recreated by the major god in the league front office.

Would it have undermined the entire decision making structure to reverse the call? Is it a singular enough event and evidence sufficiently clear that it could be seen as unique enough for an exception? Is the monumental nature something that differentiates this call? Should the call be reversed or should the social construction of baseball reality remain just that?