For those of you who missed it, the baseball story of the year is the one-hit shutout pitched by Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga. Jim Joyce, a 22 year veteran umpire, made history by blowing the most important call of his career.
Galarraga had pitched 9 perfect innings and was one out away from pitching a perfect game. For those of you who don’t follow baseball, this is pretty much never happens – in a perfect game, no opposing team members reach a base at all. In the past 100 years, this has happened 20 times. The 21st was going to happen last night.
Then, the unthinkable happened. A hit to right field, scooped up by the first-basemen, a throw to the pitcher who picked up first base, and the umpire calls “safe.” One out away from baseball history, and the opposing team gets a hit. Not only was this call devastating and disappointing, it was also wrong.
Galarraga, the pitcher, was robbed of a perfect game by a blown call from a veteran umpire.
Joyce, the umpire, went straight to the clubhouse after the game and reviewed the play, and had a Mockingbird moment. He realized that he blew the call and broke down. “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,” He told the press afterward. Nothing like blowing the call of your baseball career to bring you down, huh?
But we like this story as much for the confession and lack of self-justification as we do the forgiveness. After the thrashing that Joyce got from the national media, the internet, and the general sports world, the Detroit Tigers’ anger had turned to sympathy for the repentant and broken umpire. Here’s a quote from the Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland the next day:
I got texts from some people from ESPN that said [it was] disgraceful and it made me sick. I just can’t feel that way. I know most people feel I’m an old grumpy [person], but I’m not. But I just can’t feel that way. I feel bad for him. But I feel bad for Galarraga, too. Don’t get me wrong, that’s history. This is not a light thing. This is history. I’m not trying to downplay it. But what’s the saying, ‘Cast the first stone.’
We just aren’t the type of society that beats people up. We are a very forgiving society. What the heck? The guy felt worse than anybody in this room. I’m just not going to get into it. I’m not going to do it. Do I feel bad? Did he miss the call? Yes. But this is a very forgiving country. When you are dealing with the human elements, just like a manager making a mistake, or a writer writing a bad story or a player making a mistake, that’s just the way it is.
Or as Galarraga himself put it:
“I say many times: Nobody’s perfect,” Galarraga said. “Everybody makes a mistake. I’m sure he don’t want to make that call. You see that guy last night, he feels really bad. He don’t even change. The other umpires shower, eat. He was sitting in the seat (and saying), ‘I’m so sorry.’”
While we here at Mockingbird might take umbrage with the claim that our society is a forgiving one, I’m sure glad that we get glimpses of grace every now and then. The Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers played again the next day, with Joyce back as umpire. The entire stadium booed when Joyce’s name was announced as umpire, but in an act of reconciliation, the Tigers sent their robbed pitcher, Galarraga, out to the mound to deliver him the Tigers’ lineup. It was a quite a moment. Like the woman at the well, Joyce is forgiven and all is well again.
You’ll never hear Jesus shouting “Kill the Ump!”