Philosophy and Jim Joyce

In looking at whether or not Commissioner Bud Selig should overturn Jim Joyce’s call and award Armando Galarraga a perfect game, I want to take a philosophical approach. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue surrounding the situation has been wrapped in cliche and hyperbole, so I believe thinking about it more logically could help everyone involved.

I’m a utilitarian, which means I belong to a moral philosophy that believes acts should be judged on the amount of utility (or happiness) they bring to people. If you’ve ever taken Philosophy 101 or read any of Mill, you understand my position. So what would a utilitarian have to say about this situation? Well, I think the burden of unhappiness or unrest sits most heavily with the people most closely involved with the situation. This would be Armando Galarraga and his family, Jim Joyce and his family, and the Detroit Tigers organization and fans. For everybody else involved, this will likely just be a news story that fades away and is eventually forgotten about. However, the people directly involved will not forget about this situation (meaning be at mental ease about it) for a long, long time. Without question, the decision to make Galarraga’s start a Perfect Game would bring them great amounts of happiness.

So if Selig’s decision could only bring happiness, where is the issue? Firstly, many people will not be thrilled with the decision, but as I said earlier, their small inconvenience will be outweighed by those intimately involved, along with the many people who will like the decision. Why do many people not like the potential decision? They are worried about the “precedent” it may set. There are other irrational worries out there, but the precedent argument seems to be the one most often put forth by intelligent analysts (such as Keith Law). Baseball columnist Phil Rogers states the case:

If Selig announces that Galarraga does in fact have a perfect game, he’ll also have to make a few other changes too. The St. Louis Cardinals will be awarded the 1985 World Series, which was changed forever by the Don Denkinger call. Milt Pappas will get his perfect game, because everyone knows Bruce Froemming squeezed him. Willie Keeler, Pete Rose or someone else will own the longest hitting streak, as favorable scoring calls helped Joe DiMaggio put together his streak of 56 games in a row.

There’s no precedence for Selig to issue an after-the-fact finding, no matter how badly Joyce would love to be let off the hook.

But this is as silly as a strawman as I have ever seen. Just because someone makes a decision in one specific situation does not mean people down the line need to act only according to the previous decision (or, as Rogers absurdly argues, retroactively change prior events with loosely related circumstances). Tom Boswell hits the nail on the head here:

I think Bud should reverse the call in the best interests of the game. Everybody screams, “But what about the precedent it would set!”

Yeah, what precedent? That the next time an umpire blows the 27th out of a perfect game by two feet (then the pitcher gets the 28th out on the next hitter so that the bad call has no effect on the outcome) the next commssioner will reversethat call, too? Oh, you mean that precedent?

Come on, just do the right thing.

Besides the fact that another situation happening like this one (perfect game blown on safe/out call on last play of the game) is extremely, extremely unlikely, if it does happen again, then change it in the future if you see fit! If not, don’t. Rational actors keep agency in future events. There’s a reason the “slippery slope” is an informal fallacy!

I hope this was at the least a unique perspective on the situation. Considering there will be more utility, and the fears of the relatively inconvenienced fans/sportwriters against it rest mostly on logical fallacies, I believe Bud Selig should rule Galarraga’s start a “Perfect Game” in the best interest of baseball.

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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat

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There’s more utility in doing nothing, which is what he did. Everyone seemed fine today.