I watched a lot of baseball this summer—my son played in a competitive league. It was a season of flukes: weird and wacky things happened on the base paths this summer, and it felt that the calls too often went against my son’s team. How hard it is to forgive the blown calls that mean the difference between a close win or a close loss.
It got me to thinking about Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga.
In July 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was on his way to a perfect game. A PERFECT game. (If you don’t follow baseball and don’t know how rare that is, let me tell you, it is extremely rare. There have been 20 perfect games all time. That’s 20 since the 1800s.) It was the ninth inning, with 2 outs already in the books. The Detroit Tigers just needed one more out to complete the perfect game. When the Cleveland Indians shortstop, Jason Donald, hit a ground ball, the Detroit first baseman fielded it and threw it to Galarraga who touched the bag ahead of the runner. It was the final out—but umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe.
I watched this live. (Perfect games in the making get immediate attention.) I could not believe the call, and I will never forget Galarraga’s reaction. I have to believe that anyone else—anyone—would have thrown their glove and had a major meltdown. There would have been swearing and dirt kicking and ugly displays of anger. But Galarraga handled it with admirable composure. He was stunned, and he threw his head back in disbelief and disappointment, but the game went on. After the game, when almost anyone else might have been vomiting up their anger and disappointment, he said, “We’re human. Everybody’s not perfect.”
After the game, Jim Joyce watched the replay and realized his mistake. He immediately owned up to it and apologized to Galarraga, but he struggled with the implications of his blown call. Felt sick about it.
What admirable accountability.
For the game the next day, Armando Galarraga was the player who handed the line-up card to umpire Jim Joyce. A few months later, they walked out together to present an award at the ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award). The man who had pitched a perfect game, and the man who had robbed him of it stood together on stage, an inspirational picture of forgiveness and accountability.
Armando Galarraga will always be a footnote in the perfect game statistics column, but he will be at the top of the list for class and forgiveness.
Jim Joyce’s career as a major league umpire will always be marked by the blown call, but he will be at the top of the list for upfront accountability.
Stories like this help me to set aside my irritation with calls that set back my son’s baseball team. If Armando Galarraga can live in peace with a call that robbed him of a perfect game, then I can live with an occasional ball that should have been a strike.
After all, we’re human. Everybody’s not perfect.