Last Monday, the Texas Rangers played against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at The Ballpark in Arlington, TX. In the top of the 9th inning, the count is 3-2 with Devil Rays batter Ben Zobrist at the plate. Rangers pitcher Joe Nathan throws a curve-ball that darts straight outside the strike zone. Everyone watching knows that the pitch is clearly a ball and Zobrist should be walked. However, home-plate umpire Marty Foster calls the pitch a strike, effectively ending the Devil Rays chance of making a comeback with the final score 5-4 Rangers. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon displayed the outrage at the blown call shortly after the game. He blocked the umpire squad from exiting the stadium and was quoted as saying, “That can’t happen in a major league game.”
Indeed, Coach Maddon and the Tampa Bay players have every right to be upset at the call. Then again, the MLB has had a long history of umpire faults due to human error. Just three years ago in 2010, first-base umpire Jim Joyce robbed then-Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game. In 1996 during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, umpire Rich Garcia called New York Yankees Derek Jeter’s fly ball to right field a home-run. In reality, an 11-year old fan had reached over the right-field wall and took the ball. Garcia, having not seen the 11-year old mischief, ruled the hit a home run and the Yankees went on to win the World Series later that year.
While the calls by Garcia, Joyce, and Foster are deplorable, all three men share the same admirable ending. In all three instances, the umpires went to the press and apologized for their incorrect calls. It is very rare for the American sports fan to see a referee or umpire apologize for his or her mistakes. As a result, discussions circling around refereeing tend to be negative. Hopefully, the lessons of Garcia, Joyce, and Foster can inspire future umpires and referees across all sports to be humble and apologize for poor calls.