Monday, June 7, 2010

When Perfection Doesn't Matter

Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce
I haven't posted a full sports blog in a little, so I figured now was as good a time as any.

Only this isn't all about sports.

Athletics can make us see the world through a narrow frame. The world — as it often isn't —can be easily divided into Team A and Team B, Winner and Loser, Good Guys and Bad Guys. It's an oversimplification that players — and more often fans — take to an extreme level sometimes.

One magical night in Detroit, two men of different generations and professions helped the sports world realized there is more to athletic achievement than winning championships and amassing accolades. I'm speaking, of course, of Armando Galarraga's almost-perfect game.

Galarraga was about to join an exclusive club, the 21st pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw a perfect game. It also would've been the third perfect game of the 2010 season, joining Oakland's Dallas Braden and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay. And after 8 1/3 innings, all he needed were two more outs.

Fate had her own way of making history, though. Sure, History was made that night, but it didn't involve perfection, and it probably won't be enshrined in Cooperstown. Because history was made when first-base umpire Jim Joyce, aware of the moment that was on the line, called a baserunner safe when a nation of instant-replay experts and technical baseball rules professors knew that clearly wasn't the case.

In an instant, the whole world seemed to stop. The Tigers' bench stood in shock and awe. Internet chat rooms, message boards and Twitter feeds cried out against Joyce's call: how could this happen? What was he seeing? Did that umpire realize what he did to this poor kid?

It turns out, he did.

Joyce would later plead guilty to his offense. After viewing the replay of the call, he refused to hide behind the cover of anonymity normally offered to officials from media organizations. He fessed up:  "I just cost that kid a perfect game." The entire baseball community came out against an umpire who had officiated in countless games, playoff series and even World Series in nearly 30 years wearing blue. Rumors swirled about calls and taunts made not only to Joyce, but to his wife and children. Everyone seemed to hate the previously perfectly respected ump.

Except for Galarraga.

In a quiet act of defiance to the world around him, Detroit's ace from Venezuela smiled. One baserunner; what's the big deal, right? He knew he had gotten the out; he knew he had pitched a perfect game; he knew his name should be enshrined in the hearts of baseball fans everywhere.

But he didn't seem to care.

Galarraga just shook off the blown call, trotted back to the mound, and proceeded to end the game — a scoreless one-hitter and, most importantly, a complete-game win in the record books — with another marvelous display of pitching. And when all the hype, all the chatter, and all the media outrage was directed at his attitude toward Joyce, he did the most historic thing of all.

He forgave that man who cost him a place in history. 

Galarraga forgave the man who took away a perfect game. He didn't even argue when baseball's highest source, commissioner Bud Selig, refused to reverse the call and award a posthumous perfect game. And in doing so, he taught us all a valuable lesson, one that doesn't involve a bat and a ball, a basketball hoop, or a football field.

He taught us how to forgive. He taught us that, when forces beyond our control throw us a curveball, the only thing we can do is swing for the fences.

Jim Joyce's miscall at first base may have cost Armando Galarraga a place in Major League Baseball history. But on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, by a member of the once-hated Detroit Tigers, history was made.

And this time, the call wasn't blown.

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