Friday, June 4, 2010

A perfectly imperfect game -- why baseball still matters

By now you have probably seen this picture: the crestfallen and humbled ump, his eyes rimmed red with emotion, shaking hands with the young pitcher who lost his chance at history when the same ump blew a close call at first base on the final play of the game on Wednesday.

Jim Joyce (the man in black) and Detroit pitcher Armando Galaragga, forever will be linked in baseball lore for their roles in this episode. And nothing could be a better advertisement for baseball, the grandest sport of all.

Just four days after Phillies' ace Roy Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game in the history of the major leagues, Galaragga took his perfect game into the ninth inning. He got two quick outs and, on a 1-1 pitch, raced to cover the first base bag when Chicago shortstop Jason Donald hit a high chopper to the right side of the infield. Detroit's first baseman (who probably should have stayed at his position and let the second basemen handle the ball) knew the hitter was fleet and that the play needed a quick ending. He hit Galaragga in stride at the bag with a hard, quick throw.

The pitcher's foot came down awkwardly at the rear of the bag (possibly obscuring Joyce's view of the play) and a raucous Detroit crowd cheered history in the making -- until Joyce crossed his arms in the universal sign for "safe"..... and the game continued. Galaragga's manager, the esteemed Jim Leyland, heatedly argued the call, but Galaragga just gave the umpire an impish smile, as if to say: "I think you might have missed that one ump."
His reaction to this catastrophe (how often do you miss making history by a heartbeat? By another person's mistake?) spoke volume about his character and about the sport itself. He smiled at his misfortune! He didn't utter a single word of protest. You just had to love him for that. No posturing. No red veins popping out of his neck. He was just a guy who seemed content in knowing he had just thrown a perfect game but that human error had cost him a place in the record books: and that was okay.
What a lesson for the fans, especially Little Leaguers and their hyper-competitive parents!!
In slow motion, it's obvious Joyce missed the call. In fairness to Joyce, it's a lot easier to make this call in slow motion. In the heat of the moment, with history hanging in the balance, it's a heck of a lot harder to be right. Joyce apologized and, to his credit, admitted his mistake publicly.
To his credit, Galarraga accepted his apology and moved on. He patted Joyce on the shoulder when he gave the ump his team's line-up card at home plate before last night's game. The umpire shook his hand and returned the pat, albeit a little more emphatically than Galaragga's tap.
This morning, one of the announcers on ESPN noted that the blown call at first base will likely cost the pitcher several hundred thousand dollars in autograph opportunities over the span of his big league career.
The Tigers gave him a red convertible for his near miss with history.
He got something a lot more valuable than money and a brand new car if you ask me.
Armando Galaragga always will be known as a stand up guy, a player who loves and respects the game so much he didn't complain when history eluded his grasp.
There is no Hall of Fame for decency and human kindness. But people don't forget such acts. We celebrate them. They are bigger than perfect games.

1 comment:

  1. "He got something a lot more valuable than money and a brand new car..."

    Well said.