Every day I find myself periodically checking the Fox Sports App on my Iphone for score updates. I usually quickly scroll through each score, looking first for the Red Sox score, second for the Yankees score, and finally for any score that shows a zero for any team after the sixth inning. If there are any teams being shutout, I will click the box score, so I can check whether or not they have gotten a hit. Usually, I am disappointed to find that the pitcher is just simply shutting the other team out, and not on the verge of making history, but this year, on a few occasions, I have spotted zeroes across the board after two-thirds of the game has already been played. My next move is to turn on my TV, find the channel on the Extra Innings package on which the game is being broadcasted, and finally I sit back and hope for history to be made. No-hitters and perfect games are by far the most exciting part of baseball. Since I used to pitch as a kid, I will admit that I am a bit biased towards pitchers. As long as a New York Yankee is not on the mound or the team being no-hit is not the Red Sox, I will always root for the pitcher. Watching perfection or simply a no-hit bid is by far the most exciting part of baseball, which is why I too, along with every Tigers fan, had butterflies in my stomach as Galarraga approached perfection.
In a split second, right after Austin Jackson made one of the best catches I have ever seen to save the perfect game bid, Galarraga got one more out, and then the moment that will forever haunt umpire Jim Joyce occurred. A close play at first base resulted in Joyce inexplicably calling the runner safe as Galarraga covered first and received the ball on the base a good step before the runner hit the base. Galarraga smiled, Leyland argued, Miguel Cabrera remained in a yelling match with Joyce throughout the next at bat. The Tigers announcers were incensed, Tigers fans booed like crazy, and I, who was so caught up in the moment and feeling as if it had just happened to me, began screaming at the television set. For about ten minutes, face beet red, I let Jim Joyce have it. I was able to see more replays than most, as I was watching the game live, rather than the ESPN cut in, or the highlights later that night. I saw Joyce appear to begin the arm motion of punching the runner out and then deciding midstream to change his mind and call him safe. I saw Joyce respond to Cabrera’s criticism by telling him to “stop his f***in’ bitchin,'” which made me ever angrier. I felt like Joyce had to have realized at that point that he blew the call, so he should just take whatever Cabrera was saying, and not respond, as he deserved it.
The game ended and some of the Tigers players had to be held back from the umpiring crew. At this point, I was standing in my living room, yelling along with the Tigers players. My wife-to-be, looking a bit concerned, reminded me that number one, I don’t even like the team that was playing and number two, nobody on the television can hear me. She didn’t understand. I tried to explain to her what had just happened, and to her credit she got it, and then she yelled along with me, claiming that the umpire was a jerk and should be fired. We were on the same page! And people say sports destroy relationships. Not for us. Anytime a couple can scream at somebody (on television or not) and it is not each other, the bond has been strengthened.
The next morning, I turned on the Boomer and Carton show on WFAN, and of course the lead story was the “imperfect game”. During the broadcast, I learned a few things. First, I learned that Jim Joyce is one of the most respected and highly rated umpires in baseball. I also learned that Joyce, following the game, went into the Tigers’ locker room, gave Galarraga a hug and apologized for “blowing his chance at perfection.” He also made a public statement, in which he humbly said, “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.” After the fact, Joyce handled himself with class. Galarraga was also classy throughout the experience. Following the game, Galarraga was quoted as saying, “I told him, ‘Nobody’s perfect.” It takes a big man to be able to say that in the moment. As I looked back on my reaction, I felt silly. It didn’t even happen to me and I was classless as I reacted emotionally, rather than rationally. No umpire (this side of Joe West who firmly believes that no press is bad press) would want to make headlines for blowing such a monumental call. It is hard to see that when you are in the moment, but Galarraga did, and he should be commended for that (which he was in the form a brand new Corvette).
People always scoff at the idea that sports teaches young men and women about life. Anybody who saw this situation play out will realize that in a play that took about five seconds, numerous lessons were learned. All parties involved taught us a little something about how to handle adverse situations. Armando Galarraga taught us how to handle adversity graciously, and how to see every situation from each involved member’s perspective. He did not look at the play selfishly. Incredibly, he was able to step back and see it from Joyce’s perspective, as well. Jim Joyce taught us how to accept blame, apologize, and not make excuses. Many umpires would have stuck with their guns. They might not have even looked at the replay out of fear that they may see what they would not want to see. At the conclusion of the game, Joyce went directly to the replay and recognized his error. He did not make excuses. He could have easily said that he thought the ball was bobbled, which would have been a bit more understandable, as Galarraga “snow-coned” the catch, but it would have been dishonest. He claimed that he was absolutely positive that the runner beat the throw. He was wrong. But he admitted it. He confronted the other party face to face, rather than through the much easier means of email or telephone, and accepted responsibility for his actions. Galarraga then graciously accepted his apology and moved on. If all people could accept and admit blame the way Jim Joyce did, then we, as the human race, would be so much better off. History cannot be changed, but the future can, and Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce both showed us how to make this positive change possible. As a fan, I wish I could have seen the celebration on the field, and as a new fan of Galarraga, I would have loved to see the baseball gods shine down on him on the evening of June 2, 2010 and give him that perfect game, but instead they shined down on us, the viewers, and showed us how to handle imperfection. As a high school baseball and basketball coach, I will forever be grateful to all of the people involved in this situation for giving me a lesson on humility and character that I can now pass along to every athlete that I coach in the future.