Picture Perfect? Not All the Games We Play

While we at the Photography Initiative like to argue that photography changes everything, it’s not always the case. On June 2nd, in a controversial ninth inning call, baseball umpire Jim Joyce denied Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga a shot at making history for pitching a “perfect” game. Joyce—from his point of view behind first base—saw a batter hit a ball, make it to first base and called the play safe. Instant replay video cameras—which have been a mainstay in sports reporting since the 1960s—revealed the opposite; the runner was clearly, absolutely, irrevocably out.

As soon as Joyce reviewed the video tape, he knew he was wrong. In an audio interview you can sense his mortification at what his perception, his reality, so clearly at odds with the photographic reality of the event, set in motion. But what was done, was done, and according the rules of baseball, photographic “truth” was bypassed to celebrate human error and vulnerability. As George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times, Major League Baseball’s Rule 9.02(a) states that neither teams nor other umpires are permitted to question judgment decisions. And while many other professional sports more openly embrace the double-check verifications instant replays can provide, baseball doesn’t.

First Base at night, by Peter Arnold, Creative Commons: Attribution 2.0.

The logic of denying photographic evidence, especially when it’s instantaneously available, escapes me. That’s why dentists consult X-rays before they drill. But there were lots of commentators who seemed eager to go along with the argument that while Galarraga was gypped, rules are rules. Baseball, they say, is an “imperfect” sport; it’s important to embrace, honor, and celebrate the fallibility of everyone on the playing field. Whatever. But interestingly, everyone just as quickly came to grasp the role photography could play in working that angle. At the game following the contested one, both Joyce and Galaragga took part in a photo op orchestrated to prove that there were no hard feelings; what was done, was done. And shortly thereafter, General Motors stepped up the plate to reward Galarraga with a shiny consolation prize, a 2010 Chevrolet Corvette, which provided yet another photo opportunity to keep the story afloat in the media.

The moral of the story? Photography? Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

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