Bud drops the ball

At Comerica Park, Thursday afternoon felt just like Wednesday night.

Almost perfect.

On Wednesday, the guilt belonged to umpire Jim Joyce. He ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game with an incorrect call on what should have been the 27th out. Joyce felt like “the whole world” saw his mistake. He might have been right.

But Joyce was among the many who starred on Thursday. He reported for work in the morning, eyes moist with regret, mind fretful about the horrible insults his family had heard. He cried during an on-field encounter with Galarraga. He feared that the boos would last all day.

They didn’t. He called a good game, a fair game, the kind that has earned him a reputation as one of baseball’s finest umpires. He looked and sounded relieved afterward, during his third (and final) news conference in a 24-hour span. He said he was “very pleasantly surprised” by the fans’ reception.

“Let’s put it this way,” Joyce said. “After the second inning, I could finally spit.”

Galarraga had an easier day. He continued charming moms and grandmas in the U.S. and his native Venezuela, smiling and shrugging his way through the media crush. He accepted Joyce’s apology and asked fans to do the same.

The other heroes? Well, Chevrolet awarded Galarraga with a sparkling, cherry-red Corvette. Tigers manager Jim Leyland praised Joyce as “one of the best in the business” and abetted the reconciliation by arranging for Galarraga to deliver the lineup card to Joyce at home plate.

Detroit players patted Joyce on the back during the game, offering encouragement when they could. Fans booed when Joyce’s name was first announced over the public-address system, but they remained civil after that.

Like getting over the flu, each hour was better than the last. It was a great afternoon …

Right up until Bud Selig blew the save.

The statement came from New York, a little before 3 p.m. ET. I’ll summarize it for you: Whoa, umpires other than Joe West are messing up all of a sudden. This is a problem. Galarraga pitched a great game, but there’s nothing I can do for him now. I’ll get back to you later on instant replay.

So disappointing. Everyone in front of the commissioner had done such a good job. Galarraga. Joyce. Leyland. Chevy. Tigers officials and players. Even some still-grumpy fans in Motown.

Selig should have overturned Joyce’s ruling, awarded Galarraga a perfect game, and taken away one lousy base hit from Jason Donald. That’s it. There was no need to redraft The Baseball Constitution.

Selig had the authority to make things right. He wouldn’t have set a precedent, because this was a lightning-strike moment. The next time an umpire scuttles a perfect game with two out in the ninth, MLB commissioner Ken Griffey IV can teleport to the scene and sort out the evidence.

The commissioner could have given both men what they deserved – Joyce his public absolution, Galarraga his place in the record books. But Selig fumbled away the big chance, like Trevor Hoffman with a two-run lead.

Not that Galarraga was upset about it. He’s a kind soul, as everyone in the Western Hemisphere now knows. And it’s not as if this exercise was a total loss for the affable right-hander. Letterman’s people called. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm issued a proclamation.

All for a guy who started the season with the Toledo Mud Hens.

“It’s part of the game,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if discussing a booted ball in the second inning of any other start. “So many games, you see umpires call safe, call out, and it’s the wrong decision. Why (would) they change it in this game?”

Make no mistake: Galarraga would have been happy if Selig had changed the ruling. He said as much on Thursday morning, before the news release came out. (His exact words: “I’d love it.”) But he believed, in his heart, that he had been perfect. That seems to be enough for him.

So, Joyce would have been the true beneficiary of action by Selig. He’s the one who made the heartrending plea in response to the awful (and perhaps threatening) words spoken to his loved ones since The Play That Changed Everything.

“I wish my family was out of this,” a teary Joyce said Thursday morning. “I wish they would just direct it all to me.”

We live in the Wikipedia Era, where people are distilled into three-sentence bios and whispered sentences begin, “Oh, that’s the guy who … ” Don Denkinger’s name didn’t swirl around the Internet in 1985. It’s different now – and sometimes downright scary.

Joyce has been a loyal, high-performing employee of Major League Baseball since 1989. When the fix is this painless – we’re not wresting the Stanley Cup from the Dallas Stars here – why not preserve genuine baseball history and help out a company guy in the process?

Joyce is so stand-up that he refused to offer an opinion as to what MLB should do. But I think his incisors left a firm imprint on his tongue before the words came out.

“I know what I would like to see happen,” Joyce said. “You know what? I’m going to leave that for the office right now. Whatever the commissioner decides, I will comment after that. I really don’t want to put any spin on this at all.”

The MLB news release didn’t say so explicitly, but one source said Selig won’t revisit this game in his evaluation of umpiring practices and instant replay. His inquiry will be forward-looking. No surprise, I guess. At last check, there are no plans for the Yankees and Orioles to replay the 1996 ALCS, with Jeffrey Maier stowed away in the nosebleeds.

But it didn’t have to be this way for Joyce, Galarraga and the Tigers. The common-sense solution was there, a one-time fix to a once-in-a-generation dilemma. Even Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, stated his belief that baseball should credit Galarraga with a perfect game.

Joyce’s eyes bugged when he was told that The Call had been discussed on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I didn’t want my 15 minutes of fame to be this,” he said. “I would have much rather had it (be) that I made a great call at home plate in the World Series. That’s what I want my fame to be. I did not want my 15 minutes to be this.

“I hope my 15 minutes are over, to tell you the absolute truth.”

But 15 minutes could feel like 15 innings, if the fans aren’t as forgiving as Galarraga. Selig had the power to end it all, to restore Joyce’s former existence as an excellent, semi-anonymous umpire. It didn’t happen. And that’s a shame.

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