THE SPORTS DOCTOR- No accountability: MLB lets everyone off the hook

Nobody's in trouble for ruining his night.

This isn't a pleasant thing to admit, but when I was four years old and out shopping with my mom at the Winn-Dixie, she told me I couldn't have a pack of Rolos I wanted. So I stole them.

Given the limitations of a four-year-old's sneakiness, it took twenty minutes for my mother to discover the theft, at which point I was told to wait until my father got home. When Daddy arrived, I got a spanking and a trip back to Winn-Dixie, where he made me confess to the manager, return the remaining Rolos, and pay for the pack with money he lent me (I had a week to work it off). 

In short, I was held accountable for my actions.

Holding someone accountable isn't very popular these days, not in childrearing, not in oil spills, and not in baseball. I don't actually mean accountability, although a willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions is also a rarity. I'm talking about the inculpating, the charging of a guilty party with responsibility.

Baseball is always letting someone off the hook.

The most recent heinous example of getting out of jail free is Jim Joyce, the now infamous first-base umpire who cost Detroit Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game last week.

If you saw the play, you know Joyce called Cleveland's 27th hitter safe at first even though the throw to the bag beat him by about ten minutes. (For those who don't know baseball, in a perfect game no opposing player reaches first base. 27 up, 27 down.)  

With two outs in the ninth inning, Jim Joyce made what New York Times reporter Tim Kepner called "easily the most egregious blown call in baseball over the last 25 years."

Kepner wrote that on June 2. The next day the Times published an article headlined "Good Sportsmanship and a Lot of Goodwill," a tack many newspaper, radio, and television analysts also took. 

And it's true, there's no arguing the decency of the involved parties– Joyce did apologize, and Galarraga didn't make any fuss about the mistake. In fact, he and the Tigers were almost overly kind to Joyce. 

Yet while the interaction between the team and the umpire has become what the Detroit Free Press calls "a national referendum on grace, humility and sportsmanship," Joyce was still terribly wrong in his call, and nothing has been done about it.

Jim Joyce doesn't lack accountability; his regret was so immediate and heartfelt that even the Christian Science Monitor wrote an editorial holding him up as a perfect example of humility. After viewing a replay, Joyce realized he was wrong and instantly sought out Galarraga to apologize. 

He behaved exactly the way we wish people would behave when they wrong us– no one is questioning his behavior. 

It's Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig who have not acted as they ought.

Many would say that boos and death threats are enough punishment for Jim Joyce, but holding him accountable is not a punishment. With 23 years of working the Majors, during which time he has umpired All-Star games, Division series, and World Series without incident, Joyce doesn't need to be punished: everyone makes mistakes. 

But his bad call dramatically altered a game, a pitcher's career, and a franchise's history. Shouldn't the Commissioner's office find a way to lay that at Joyce's feet?

It will never happen. Even if Joyce weren't an umpire with the diplomatic immunity that comes with the job, his apology was enough to get him off the hook. In baseball, regret is optional, and an apology doesn't have to be sincere. Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball fails to hold people accountable. 

Whether it's letting Mark McGwire be a batting coach for the Cardinals, not suspending A-Rod, allowing Manny Ramirez's minor league games to be televised, or sending Jim Joyce out to be head umpire the night after his blown call, Major League Baseball doesn't demand accountability anywhere, not even a little bit.

Rolos anyone?


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.