Friday, June 4, 2010

Class. Real Class!

On June 2, 2010 an event happened in Detroit that will live forever in baseball lore. A young pitcher for the hometown Tigers lost his bid for a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians, with two outs in the ninth inning. Armando Galarraga became the 10th pitcher in baseball history to lose his bid for baseball immortality (27 up - 27 down) with only one out remaining between him and perfection. The thing that makes the Galarraga's loss more notable than the other nine heart breakers was the fact that the first base umpire, Jim Joyce, missed the call.

Granted, it was a "bang-bang" play at first base. Joyce had what he considered good position on the play. The pitch that should have been the final out of the gem was hit just left of first base. The Tigers first baseman went to his right to field the ball cleanly. Galarraga ran to first to cover the bag and take the throw. It's a routine play. Pitchers and first basemen practice that play from the time they are in Little League. It was executed perfectly, but the Umpire called the runner safe.

Baseball has long been called a game of inches. Umpires are called upon to make judgment calls in every game. The balls and strike calls are all based on the Umpire's concept of the strike zone. A couple of inches can make the difference. Line drives hit down the foul lines can , by mere inches, determine the outcome of a game. Close plays at the bases or at home plate are regular occurrences, and baseball Umpires are called upon to make a quick judgment call. Baseball has no rules that allow Umpires to review the plays. There is no "after further review, the call is overturned" announcements in Major League Baseball. Perhaps there should be, but there isn't, and that is an issue for another post. The burden rests squarely on the shoulders of the Umpire. Often they are correct. Sometimes they are wrong. In this case, the television replay showed that Joyce blew it.

He stood by the call. He knew it would be unpopular (to say the least) but he thought he had made the right call. He incurred the wrath of the nearly 20,000 fans who watched the replay on the Jumbo Tron. He took a brutal tongue lashing from Tiger Manager, Jim Leyland, and stoically walked off the field to a chorus of boos when the final out was recorded. As soon as he hit the Umpire's quarters, he asked the clubhouse man to que up the replay of the video. There he realized, he had blown the call.

In a post game interview, Joyce was contrite and nearly in tears, when he said, "I feel terrible! That kid worked his ____ off and I cost him a perfect game. I blew it!" He promptly called the Tiger's clubhouse to apologize to Galarraga. To the young man's credit he took the call, and graciously told the host of reporters gathered round him, "No body's perfect. He recognized he missed the call, and he called me to apologize. Umpires don't do that."

Galarraga was one out from perfection. He was one out away from becoming only the 21st pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to ever face the minimum number of batters. No runs. No hits. No errors. No walks. No hit batsmen. No one reaching first on a dropped third strike. 27 batters up - 27 batters down. Of all the people on the field whom one would think would have a right to go ballistic, it would have been Galarraga. Yet the replay showed that when he took the throw at first base, his expression went immediately from ecstasy, to disbelief, to downcast eyes and a smile of disappointment. He then went to the mound and finished the job by getting the next hitter to ground out.

The most famous one hit shut out in the history of baseball was complete.

The pitcher lost out on an honor and recognition that only twenty men have earned in well over a century of playing thousands of games.

The Umpire, a veteran of the Major Leagues, who has called World Series and numerous league championship series games, and rated by many as one of the top three umpires in the game today, blew the most important call of his 22 year career.

Outrage poured from the fans. News media pundits called for Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call and give Galarraga the perfect game. But according to the rules of the game, it just couldn't be done. The sports world was in an uproar.

Yet in the middle of the pathos, all the affected parties have shown such qualities of contrition, forgiveness, and grace, that it boggles the mind that is so accustomed to the 21st century culture of "Me". What an example of sportsmanship, grace and forgiveness we see in the whole episode. Even Tiger Manager Leyland who was wroth with Joyce after the final out, later acknowledged, "He's a good Umpire. He just made a mistake. He's only human".

How would you and I react if we were in the place of Armando Galarraga? How would we feel if we were in Jim Joyce's shoes. The whole post game episode was an exhibition of class that is almost extinct in our society - not just the world of sports. I wish every Little League player, coach, umpire, and parent could see how true professionals carry themselves in difficult situations.

The picture above shows what took place before Thursday evening's game between the Tigers and Indians. Leyland sent Galarrage to bring the starting lineup to the home plate Umpire, Jim Joyce, before the game. Joyce fought back tears as Galarraga smiled and shook his hand.

Armando Galarraga. I didn't know much about him before Wednesday night, but he is my sports hero today. I want to be like him when I grow up.

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