Baseball umpire Jim (don’t call me James) Joyce made his own lasting mark on baseball history last night by making a blatantly incorrect “safe” call at first base on what should have been the final of 27 consecutive outs registered by the Detroit Tigers in support of their pitcher, Armando Galarraga. Sports blogs everywhere exploded with commentary, with some of the best offered by Joe Posnanski, as is frequently his custom. The skirmishers in the battle of words commonly form two camps, those who believe that existing technology can and should be used to overturn obvious umpiring errors, and those who believe that mistakes by umpires are a part of the “human element” in sports that should be defended against demands for the sort of perfection only attainable by gizmos such as video cameras and lasers.
I believe this to be a false dichotomy, for it is predicated on fallibility as the essence of humanity. We humans are, of course, quite clearly fallible, to a truly dispiriting degree. But so, too, are we audacious, tenacious, inventive, adaptive, and at times even ingenious. To be sure, these admirable traits seem less widely distributed among us than does fallibility, but that is regrettable rather than inevitable. The “human element” quite clearly includes the desire for improvement, frequently by means of technology. On a grand scale, it is the force that led some of our fellow humans to translate their longing to travel to the moon into the amazing technological feat of getting there. At the mundane level, it’s the instinct that prods every tinkerer in every garage trying to build a better mousetrap.
If major league baseball were to use a technology developed by humans to improve the application of the rules developed by humans for the purpose of entertaining humans who enjoy watching other humans perform physical feats of skill, then I would consider that action to incorporate the human element wonderfully. And fallible humans like Mr. Joyce would be spared the misery of public humiliation and penitence that he now must endure.