On Errors, Human Error, And R.A. Dickey's Maybe-Hitter [UPDATE]

Illustration for article titled On Errors, Human Error, And R.A. Dickey's Maybe-Hitter [UPDATE]

Today, Friday, we find out if R.A. Dickey threw a no-hitter on Wednesday. The dissonance of that statement should itself tell you what the "right" answer is. A no-hitter is about the mounting pressure of the late innings, the superstitious avoidance of a pitcher in the dugout, the social aspect of calling and texting all your friends to tell them to put on the game, and foremost, the gleeful dogpile celebration on the mound. A distant last is the actual "not giving up a hit" part. Technically, sure, that's important—in the same way that the box score tells you all you need to know about Game 6 of the last World Series.


Take a look at David Wright trying to barehand a ball to nail a speedy B.J. Upton, and judge for yourself. Dickey says a retroactive no-no would be "a little bit cheap." Terry Collins puts the chance of a successful appeal at less than five percent. Joe Torre, in his capacity as Whatever The Hell His Title Is, is the one reviewing the appeal. He's got his own opinion, but he's consulting with other baseball minds before issuing his dictum. No, not a dictum—his opinion is factually binding. If he says it was a hit, it was a hit. If he says it was an error, that thing that happened almost 48 hours ago that was a hit, wasn't a hit. It's inherently silly to declare that what is by definition a judgment call is "correct" or not. Torre knows this, I think, and isn't asking Tony La Russa and company if Wright should have fielded that ball. They're discussing what makes sense for Major League Baseball's PR.

The appeals process is dumb. It has purview over everything but on-field decisions, and exists mainly to help players protect their stats for pride and contract negotiation. David Ortiz missed out on an RBI because his double was ruled an error, so he profanely burst into a press conference to complain. He had his RBI reinstated four days later, by the official MLB scoring committee that was set up in 2008 precisely to handle meaningless things like this.

Meaningful things, like a Carlos Beltran leadoff double in a 2-0 game that was wrongly ruled foul? That's not even up for discussion. The difference is who's being scrutinized. Players, who are team employees, can have their accomplishments thrown out by review. Official scorers, who are MLB employees, can have their decisions overturned. Umpires? Untouchable. Their calls are not subject to reversal, no matter how crucial or wrong the calls. This needs to be stated succinctly: baseball is happy to review and reverse decisions, but only decisions that had zero effect on the outcome of a game. Human error is part of the game—but only certain humans.

The debate over replay and umpire reviews can be continued another time. (Jason Donald will have forever beaten Armando Galarraga to the bag, even though he didn't, and I will argue that that blown call got more good PR for Galarraga, Jim Joyce and MLB than a correct call would have. That play was unappealable, because it was an umpire's call. ) But there's no better time to call attention to the sheer pointlessness of the scoring committee's existence than the one time in its history when people care what it has to say. Hit vs. error: a statistical choice insignificant to the entire population of Earth minus three (pitcher, batter, fielder), except when it's a component of that ultimate statistical quirk, the no-hitter.


Here is the human element of baseball: shared excitement, tension, release, emotion. Fair or not, R. A. Dickey and the Mets and their fans didn't have that on Wednesday. Even if Joe Torre decides he threw a no-hitter, he didn't throw a No-Hitter. Not in the only sense that matters.


Update, 4:00 EDT: MLB has upheld the official scorer's decision. B.J. Upton's hit remains a hit. Dickey says he's "relieved."