The Im-Perfect Game

If you want to handle something with grace and dignity, look no further than Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce and Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga. If you have been living under a rock for the last week, you probably don’t know that Galarraga was pitching a perfect game on a balmy Tuesday night in Detroit last week. No hits, no errors, no base on balls; this feat has only been accomplished twenty times in the history of Major League Baseball. It was the ninth inning and the Cleveland Indians were down to their last out when Jason Donald hit a little grounder in the infield. Galarraga did what he was supposed to do: he ran to first to cover as the first baseman cleanly fielded the ball and threw it to him. The ball reached Galarraga, his foot on the bag, long before Donald did. Umpire Jim Joyce called Donald “safe.” The perfect game was history.

Galarraga’s teammates went crazy, as did manager Jim Leland. Joyce was confident that he hadn’t blown the call. Galarraga smiled ruefully and headed back to the mound to record the 28th out of the game and then walked off the field to the dugout. Joyce went into the locker room and watched the replay, which all of the Tigers had already seen and knew what Joyce was now discovering: he had botched the call. He had blown Galarraga’s perfect game. On a day when baseball great Ken Griffey retired after an illustrious career and six-hundred and thirty home runs, Jim Joyce was the only name we were saying. He would go down in history as making arguably the worst call in major league baseball.

You’ve got to feel for the guy. A mistake is just that. I listened to his post-game interview and he was choked up the entire time, taking the blame for something that he says will haunt him forever.

Major League Baseball gave Joyce the option of sitting out the next day’s game, but he declined. He took the field with his head held high, probably expecting the worst from the Detroit hometown fans. Instead, he was greeted by Armando Galarraga, who handed him the lineup card. Galarraga shook his hand, which drew cheers from the crowd. What could have been an extremely bad situation—have you ever seen how seriously people take their hometown sports?—was defused by the kindness and humility of one gentleman, Armanda Galarraga.

There are several things that are striking about this situation. First, Galarraga didn’t make a scene when it happened. He had just been denied the opportunity to achieve something that few men had done in the history of his sport. Yet, he didn’t throw his glove or kick the mound, or get in the umpire’s face. He returned to the mound and finished the job. Second, upon learning of his mistake, Joyce took full responsibility, turning into a grown man crying in front of a group of reporters when he learned of his error. Someone taking responsibility so honestly and forthrightly in today’s world is pretty much unheard of (BP anyone?), so to see this man reduced to tears upon learning of his mistake was truly a sight. Third, the Detroit fans cheered both men upon their arrival on the field, showing that people are mature enough to realize when something has been done in error and with no malice aforethought and can accept other’s failings. I, myself, made a mistake at my job today and my first thought was, “at least I’m not Jim Joyce.” I felt for the guy. My heart, and apparently the collective heart of the city of Detroit, goes out to the guy. He screwed up. He owned it. Hopefully, he’ll be able to move on.

Child #2 is involved in several sporting activities and the behavior of the kids on the field sometimes approaches reprehensible. Bad sportsmanship abounds. Names are called during the game and sulking takes place after losses. I hope that coaches everywhere use this situation as a teachable moment: what to do and how to behave when things don’t go your way and how to own up to and redeem yourself from a mistake, no matter how big.

Maggie Barbieri

6 replies
  1. Misa
    Misa says:

    First, let me be forthright… I DO live under a rock. I hadn't heard this story and have pretty much zero love for professional sports.

    That being said, I LOVE this story, particularly the hero inside both the men involved. I wrote a post yesterday on The Naked Hero about witnessing the hero inside my son. It's the small moments that show a person's true character inside that I value, love to see, and respect. I agree, Maggie, this is an excellent story, shows both men as heroes, and should be held up as an example of true sportsmanship.

    PS, thanks for my current events lesson!

  2. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    I felt so bad for both men! But it really was a great lesson in graciousness and humility. I know we've heard so many fake apologies lately (mostly by cheating politicians who get caught), but a sincere apology that isn't coerced is so incredibly refreshing! I keep thinking of "NCIS," which my husband and I love; but I hate Gibbs' rule that you should never apologize. Nothing nicer and more gratifying than a human being who can say "I'm sorry" and mean it. So few people in public own up to mistakes anymore, not right away anyway and not without their PR team forcing their hand!

  3. Mary@GigglesandGuns
    Mary@GigglesandGuns says:

    I am struck by this story each time I see it. Two great men in the same game. WOW

    Children sports can be eyeopeners. Years ago teachers remarked when a child had no manners. Now they make it a point to remark on those who do have manners.

    Giggles and Guns

  4. Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith says:

    Wow, this really was something in this day and age.

    When I go to a kids' game, what shocks me is the bad behavior of the parents.

    Best is the real little kids who soft ball and have no idea what they're doing and sometimes get distracted and take off somewhere when they're supposed to be running to base. Like my great-granddaughter told me, "It doesn't matter, Grandma, no one wins or loses."


  5. jenny milchman
    jenny milchman says:

    My kids are still at the that's-a-pretty-flower stage when they run around the soccer field (looking down and totally losing sight of the ball, or even the fact that there *is* a ball).

    But for people whose lives and livelihood sport is, this kind of graciousness was really unheard of, and I agree–applause is in order. I feel that almost anything can be forgiven so long as it is owned up to forthrightly.

    It's a lesson I try to show my flower-smelling children as much as I am able.

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