On June 2, 2010, Tigers starter Armando Galarraga nearly threw a perfect game against the Indians. He retired the first 26 batters he faced in order. The 27th, Jason Donald, slapped a grounder that sent first baseman Miguel Cabrera far to his right. Galarraga raced to cover first base. Cabrera’s throw appeared to beat Donald, but first base umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe, ending the perfect game bid. Replays showed that Joyce got the call wrong. Donald would take second and third base on defensive indifference in the 3-0 game, then Galarraga got Trevor Crowe to ground out to end the game.
Joyce was very remorseful after the game, admitting that he got the call wrong. He apologized to Galarraga as well. Sadly, irate Tigers and general baseball fans showered him with criticism. The next day, manager Jim Leyland had Galarraga take the lineup card out to home plate. Galarraga shook the hand of a crying Joyce and the next game began.
Joyce and Galarraga helped write a book about the near-perfecto called Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History, authored by Daniel Paisner. Galarraga didn’t pitch again in the majors after 2012, and Joyce retired ahead of the 2017 season.
The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen caught up with both Joyce and Galarraga to discuss the upcoming 10th anniversary of the perfect game bid. He notes that Joyce advocated on Galarraga’s behalf, to no avail, to have the commissioner recognize the effort as a perfect game.
Galarraga didn’t say much at the time, but he feels like Major League Baseball should recognize it as a perfect game. He said, “Why not? Why wait for so long? I don’t want to die, and then they’ll be like, ‘You know what, he threw a perfect game.'”
There have been just 23 official perfect games thrown in MLB history, last achieved by Félix Hernández for the Mariners against the Rays on August 15, 2012. Coincidentally, there were two other perfect games in 2010: Dallas Braden on May 9, and Roy Halladay on May 29. If Galarraga had his way, he would be added to that list.
As Stavenhagen notes, there isn’t much of a precedent for MLB making retroactive changes. MLB in 1991 updated its definition of a perfect game, saying that a pitcher must complete the game for the effort to be recognized. Pirates pitcher Harvey Haddix, who brought a perfect game into the 13th inning against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, lost the accomplishment. Besides that, the league has typically let what happened on the field, for better or for worse, stand on its own. It seems unlikely that Galarraga will get his wish, but anybody who watched that game and saw the play on the Donald grounder knows he was perfect on that day.