Umpire Jim Joyce, a near-perfect game, Twitter spam, and the wisdom of “Tin Cup”

Having read about the blown call that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game on the 27th batter, I became interested in the umpire, Jim Joyce.  After making a bad first-plate safe call that cost Galarraga a perfect game on what should have been the very last out, Joyce acted with grace, apologizing directly and profusely to Galarraga.  As SI notes, Joyce was “crushed.”  Galarraga also acted with class, saying “I give a lot of credit to the guy saying, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you because I really say I’m sorry.'”  Both of them are professionals with class.  After all, it’s when you screw up, or when somebody’s error screws you, that your character really shines (or doesn’t).

Too bad that some of the amateurs on the Web don’t have similar class.  Shortly after the bad call, somebody vandalized Joyce’s Wikipedia page to declare he was dead.  That’s just sick.  Yesterday, I saw that Joyce’s name was a trending Twitter topic, but the results were polluted with Twitter spam.

Such online foolishness illustrates what Andrew Keen derided as the “Cult of the Amateur” in his book by the same name.  Keen says:

We — those of us who want to know more about the world, those of us who are the consumers of mainstream culture — are being seduced by the empty promise of the “democratized” media.  For the real consequence of the Web 2.0 revolution is less culture, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information.  One chilling reality in this brave new digital epoch is the blurring, obfuscation, and even disappearance of truth.

In some ways, the foolishness of Wiki vandals and Twitter spammers provides support for Keen’s observations.  But Keen’s critiques of amateurs are also somewhat overblown.  Keen’s preference for traditional “experts” over Web 2.0 “amateurs” ignores that the distinctions between the two are not always clear.  Indeed, in federal court, the qualification of a witness as an “expert” permitted to provide opinion testimony on “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” is often sharply argued.  Plus, traditional experts are also subject to error, as amply illustrated by Joyce’s bad call.

But Joyce has class, something that doesn’t require, or always come with, expertise.  You either have it or you don’t.

Also, even without a perfect game, Galarraga’s game combined with Joyce’s bad call are the stuff of legend.  As Paul Clemens noted in the New York Times, the replays of the bad call may become “baseball’s Zapruder film.”  Such immediate-legend status is even better illustrated by this exchange between Kevin Costner (Roy) and Rene Russo (Molly) in the classic sports film Tin Cup.  Immediately prior, golfer Roy loses the U.S. Open by massively blowing par by stubbornly refusing to take a lay-up shot on the 18th hole for an easy win.  Instead, he tries (repeatedly) to hit the ball over a long water hazard.  Roy loses the tournament, but wins the hearts of the fans, and of Molly:

Molly: That was incredible! That was the shot of the tournament!

Roy: I just gave away the U.S. Open.

Molly: It doesn’t matter.

Roy: One time in my life I know the safe play to hit and I still…Shit, I still can’t make myself do it.

Molly: It doesn’t matter.

Roy: My whole career, my whole life on the line…I just made a 12 on the last hole of the Open!

Molly: You sure did. It was the greatest 12 of all time. No one’s going to remember the Open 10 years from now, who won…but they’ll remember your 12! My, God, Roy, it was…Well, it’s immortal! I am so proud of you!

Sometimes it’s the ones that get away that are the most memorable.

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