What They Did Right

Published: June 5, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Perfection doesn’t happen every day, but last Wednesday, June 2nd, we saw a splendid example.

Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, bottom of the ninth, two outs, and Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was facing Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald. He was also facing one of the most elusive of baseball’s achievements – A Perfect Game: 27 batters up, 27 down, no hits, no walks; not a single man, out of 27 opposing players, would reach base through nine innings.

Bam!  Donald bounces the ball between first and second. Tiger first baseman, Miguel Cabrera instinctively moves to his right, fields the ball and throws to pitcher Galarraga who’s moving to cover first in a play that’s practiced endlessly in Spring Training.

First base umpire Jim Joyce leans into position, carefully watching the results of Cabrera’s throw to the pitcher. Donald charges down the first base line. Galarraga charges to cover first. Donald stretches for the bag. Galarraga catches the ball, his foot reaches for the bag, Joyce calls the runner safe and… that’s when it happened.

The lanky pitcher smiled broadly, looked at Joyce in disbelief.  “Safe?” he seems to be saying. “Safe!” Joyce nods.

“If I had been Galarraga,” Joyce said later, “I would have been the first one standing there [screaming]. I would have said something immediately. He didn’t say a word, not one word.”

The crowd groans and shouts. Players swarm Joyce. Tiger manager Jim Leyland leans into Joyce’s face. No change.  No way. The call stands. The fact of the matter is Joyce is not there to see history made. He’s there to make the right call without fear or favor to either team or a history-making game.

After watching the replay, Joyce realized that he made the mistake of a lifetime. “I just missed the damn call,” he said. “This isn’t ‘a’ call. This is a history call. And I kicked the shit out of it.  I take pride in this job, and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his ass off all night.”

A 22-year veteran umpire who’s only goal is to call them as he sees them, makes the mistake of a lifetime and what does he do… he openly and loudly takes personal responsibility.

After the game, Galarraga said that Joyce apologized to him. “He probably felt more bad than me,” Galarraga said. “Nobody’s perfect,” he said, smiling.

A player who “technically” pitched a perfect game, one of only 21 in baseball’s history and what does he do… he smiles and demonstrates compassion for the umpire?

It’s Thursday afternoon and Joyce is due to work home plate. As he exits the dugout to receive the line-ups from the managers before the game, he’s met with cheers from the afternoon crowd.  It’s an acknowledgment of respect not only for the courage to make the call, but to come back and admit his mistake.

Galarraga approaches a visibly shaken Joyce, shakes his hand and smiles, as if to say, “It’s okay. Let’s get back to work.”

And what’s the lesson we come away with?  In spite of a struggling economy, two wars, a divided Congress, the fury of a Tea Party, two men demonstrate for the rest of us the best qualities of respect, responsibility and compassion.

I can’t think of anything more perfect than that.

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