Life Lessons From A (Near) Perfect Game

Since 1900, there have only been 19 perfect games pitched in Major League Baseball. For those who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the sport, a perfect game is when the pitcher throws a complete game without giving up a hit, run, error, or hit batsmen. A whole game without a batter on the opposing team reaching base. In the last 110 years that’s only happened 19 times.

Last night my 15 year old was watching the Stanley Cup Finals and told me that the Detroit Tigers’ Amando Galarraga had a perfect game through 7 innings. We watched him pitched the 8th inning and then flipped back to watch the 9th. The last batter was the Indians’ Jason Donald who hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. Miguel Cabrera ranged to his right and threw to the pitcher covering first. The throw beat the runner and the celebration started. But only for a moment because the first base umpire, Jim Joyce, inexplicably called Donald safe and the perfect game was no more.

In case you haven’t seen it let me assure you that this isn’t a case of a close call that could have gone either way. The replay showed that the runner was clearly out. After seeing the replay, no one disputes that. Even the moment that it happened, the players all knew that the umpire had made a mistake. The first baseman put his hands on his head in disbelief. The Tigers manager, Jim Leyland, came out to argue the call. The Indians batter was even stunned. He sure looked like he knew that he was out.

Armando Galarraga, who just lost out on becoming only the 20th pitcher to throw a perfect game, smiled. He didn’t argue. In fact he didn’t say anything that I could see. He just went back to the mound where he induced the next batter to hit a routine grounder to the third baseman.

As the game ended some of the Tigers’ players and coaches yelled at the guilty umpire while the crowd booed. But again Galarraga was nothing but classy on the field and in an interview immediately following the game.

I said to my two older kids that as impressive as Galarraga’s pitching was I was more impressed with the way he handled the adversity and disappointment. When they asked me to explain, I told them that I’ve seen a lot of kids their age involved in sports (and adults for that matter) throw fits when things don’t go their way. There was much to admire about how Galarraga handled his disappointment.

That admiration extends to the umpire, Jim Joyce. After the game, he went into the umpire’s locker room and watched the replay. It was only then that he knew that he got the call wrong.

Joyce went and found Galarraga and apologized for blowing the call and ruining his opportunity to make history. Galarraga said…

“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, `Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,’ ” Galarraga said. “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”

It is very, very, very rare for a baseball umpire to admit he was wrong and rarer still for them to apologize face to face with the person affected by their error. Jim Joyce is no ordinary umpire. He was consistently given high marks by the MLB players and called one of the games best. Here’s a couple of lines by Joyce following the game.

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

“I don’t blame them a bit or anything that was said,” Joyce said. “I would’ve said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”

The parallels to our life seem obvious so I won’t belabor them. But, on the other hand, let’s not miss them.

1. Armando Galarraga didn’t throw a fit when everyone around him was. He acknowledged that “no one’s perfect” and moved on saying nothing negative about the umpire. In the pressure of the moment and with emotions running high, it would have been very easy for him to lose his temper and further embarrass the umpire.

How about us? Are we as gracious and kind to people who blow it?

2. Jim Joyce could easily have made excuses, but he didn’t. He could have easily avoided the media, but he didn’t. He didn’t have to go apologize to the pitcher because umpires don’t do those kind of things. But he did.

How about us? Are we as quick to accept responsibility? Once we’ve “seen the replay” and know we’ve blown it, are we quick to pursue those we’ve wronged and reconcile with them?

It seems that professional sports are often filled with negative lessons. It’s fun to find occasions where there are positive role models.

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