The (Almost) Perfect Game
As many of you loyal IMPO readers know, I am quite a serious baseball fan. In fact, I am pretty sure Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio owes me a drink at some point; I swear I’ve paid a league minimum salary or two after years of dumping money into this organization.
Sometimes I couldn’t be happier to be at a baseball game… like last Friday’s perfect 80-degree evening where Yovanni Gallardo threw a complete game shut out against the Mets and then Corey Hart hammered out a walk-off home run. These are the types of games I sincerely feel I will remember in 20 years.
Still, other games remain entrenched in my brain because of how heartbreaking they are. Wednesday night was one of those games, where a collective of baseball fans like myself felt their eyes widen and their jaws drop as umpire Jim Joyce botched a call that broke up Armando Gallaraga’s almost secured perfect game in Detroit.
Sports writers are calling it the most heartbreaking call in baseball history. Joyce apologized to Gallaraga after watching the footage of the base hit, admitting “I just cost that kid a perfect game… I was convinced (the runner) beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”
It’s moments like these where I’m glad that my day-to-day decision-making isn’t subject to a slow motion replay in front of millions of angry viewers.
It’s an extreme version of the “armchair quarterback” phenomenon. I know from experience growing up in Wisconsin that every Badger fan can coach better than Bret Bielema, and that my brothers, dad, and uncles could assemble a better offensive line than the Packers.
Just like I could call a better game than Jim Joyce  when I can see the ball from three different angles on 8 hours of sleep, under no pressure whatsoever.
But nobody cares how I would have made the call, thank goodness. That said, having a few million eyes on you—or even just a few—is not the worst thing in the world.
Nobody wants too many “cooks in the kitchen” so to speak, but the power of observation can be enormous, especially when it comes to the necessary checks and balances to safety, training, and process improvement.
In addition, it never hurts to have some armchair quarterbacks surrounding you. Sometimes it takes having to explain your thought process to make you realize you’ve perhaps overlooked or under evaluated certain elements. As irritating as a backseat driver can be, it’s questions that lead to brainstorms, revisions, and sometimes, better processes and results.
And in baseball, many a time, the home plate umpire appeals to the third base ump to confirm a close call. They back each other up on the field, to try and minimize the number of times someone is faced with a disastrous scenario like Wednesday night’s.
Sadly, Jim Joyce’s call has once again stirred the hive of endless debate over the onerous role of the baseball umpire and his fallibility. The occasional botched call aside, I really like the tradition of it. The day the strike zone is a series of invisible laser lines instead of a man clad in black padding will be a sad one for baseball, no doubt.
Business is like baseball in a way… collars get hot, pressures mount, and fractions of seconds and inches can mean the difference between winning and losing. But even rarer than the perfect game is the perfect ump. Or a perfectly run business. Lucky for you, you don’t have to do it on your own.
Does the pressure of observation make you a better manager, or do you find the armchair quarterbacks in your facility do more harm than good? Do you think the days of the umpire are numbered? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org .