A perfect game—27 batters faced, 27 batters retired—is an extremely rare event in baseball. Since Lee Richmond pitched the first perfect game in 1880, only 20 pitchers have managed the feat. To put things in perspective, the number of Apollo astronauts who have orbited the moon (24) is greater than the number of major league pitchers who have thrown perfect games.
The perfect game count almost reached 21 on June 2, and would have except for a blown call by an umpire. Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga retired the first 26 Cleveland batters. Batter number 27, Jason Donald, hit a ground ball that was fielded by Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He tossed the ball to the Galarraga, who was running to cover first base. Although the pitcher clearly reached the base first, in a footrace replayed thousands and thousands of times, umpire Jim Joyce inexplicably called the runner safe.
There was widespread sympathy for Galarraga and numerous calls for Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the umpire’s botched call at first base. Although you might think that the White House had more important things to worry about, like a couple of wars and a state-size oil slick growing in the Gulf of Mexico, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs weighed in on the side of a reversal the day after the game.
The real question is not whether Galarraga should get some sort of administrative credit for a perfect game. The question, instead, should be this: when is a sporting event—any sporting event—actually over? The results of horse races are occasionally changed months, or even years, after the fact based on drug tests and associated litigation, and the United States Equestrian Federation reserves the right to disqualify a show winner after the trophy is awarded.
But what about a judging error in a class, the equine equivalent of umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call? Is there any legal remedy for the exhibitor who should have won the class but did not? Should there be?
If a horse picks up a wrong lead in a performance class, but the judge does not see the mistake and places the horse first, what recourse do the other exhibitors have? The United States Equestrian Federation goes to great lengths to insure that horse shows conducted under USEF rules are fair to all competitors. Obtaining a judge’s card is difficult and time-consuming, and there are mandated continuing education requirements. Competitors who think there has been a violation of USEF rules have the option of filing a protest with the organization, a procedural safeguard designed to keep the playing field level.
Horse show judging is inherently subjective, however, and allowing the result of a class to be dependent on second guessing the judge after the class is over and the placings announced makes no sense. USEF General Rule 602(6)(b) recognizes that a judge’s opinion is just that, an opinion: "A judge’s decision, representing his/her individual preference or opinion, is not protestable unless it is alleged to be in violation of Federation rules." Similar logic dooms to failure a lawsuit claiming a horse show judge made the wrong decision.
After the Galarraga controversy erupted, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said that the "human element has always been an integral part of baseball." In this context, human element is another way to say "mistake."
Is the "human element" an inherent part of showing horses? When I was a kid I showed a very nice Saddlebred, which happened to be gray. We were out of the ribbons at one show. The judge afterward said that he did not like gray horses and would not place a gray no matter how good the horse might be. My only recourse was to never show a gray horse in front of that judge again.
Commissioner Selig also said that he would "examine" the expanded use of instant replay to assist umpires in making close calls. What about instant replay or some other scheme allowing post-competition review when subjective judging comes into play at important competitions such as the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games?