I don’t watch a lot of baseball on TV. I love the sport, but I don’t want to devote three hours to anything, not with the mound of chores I always have to do. If I do watch baseball, I’ll watch an Atlanta Braves game, so the fact that I caught the ninth inning of the Detroit Tigers versus the Cleveland Indians is completely by chance. And I’m glad for my husband’s unusual change of the channel.
It was the ninth inning when we tuned in, and Armando Galarraga was pitching a perfect game. He had retired 24 batters in a row, no walks, or errors committed. We watched as the center-fielder made an amazing running catch to keep Galarraga’s once-in-a-lifetime dream alive. Out one. The next batter up swings and is thrown out at first. Out two. It was now time for Galarraga to make history–only 20 other men have ever thrown a perfect game in the Major Leagues.
It was a hard hit, and the first baseman ran to retrieve the ball. Galarraga ran to cover first base, arriving in time to make the catch. He stuck out his glove, extended his foot out to touch the bag, and he and his teammate turned excitedly toward the first base umpire to see the call: SAFE! The umpire extended both arms out to the side making the signal that forever changed the way this game would be remembered in history.
The replay was clear; the runner, in fact, was not safe. He was clearly out. It really wasn’t even a close call, but baseball doesn’t use instant replay, so it was the final call.
As I watched this play unfold, I literally felt my stomach turn queasy. I may not have any experience as a baseball player, but I know how rare a perfect game is. A no-hitter is an amazing accomplishment for a pitcher, but a perfect game–that’s more like a dream.
But what amazed me most wasn’t the bad call and horrible ending to this game. No, it was the events that happened since that call was made.
Armando Galarraga, after getting this call that blew his chance in history, didn’t yell. He didn’t throw his glove. He simply smiled at the ump. Yes, it was a smile that said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” but it was a smile nonetheless. He then walked backed to the pitcher’s mound and faced his 28th batter. He got the out and won the game for the Tigers.
As he walked off the mound to the dugout, he was greeted by the catcher who hugged him. Galarraga was clearly disappointed. The rest of his teammates came to congratulate him and offer sympathy at the same time–Galarraga earned a perfect game, but it was taken from him. And then his coach and teammates went for the umpire.
I can’t imagine what it felt like to be Jim Joyce, that infamous umpire, booed by the crowd, surrounded by hostile teammates defending their pitcher, but it was clear he wanted to get out there. But, apparently, he didn’t get out of there and go home. After seeing the replay for himself, he sought out Galarraga and apologized. In the interview I saw last night on the MLB Network, Galarraga said the umpire came to him and said he was sorry with tears in his eyes, still in his sweaty clothes. Joyce knew he made a bad call that ended Galarraga’s perfect game.
And Galarraga hugged him. He hugged him. He said in his interview that Joyce was only human; mistakes happen. In fact, I heard that phrase many times that night. The coach, catcher, and center-fielder all said the same thing: Joyce was a good umpire. He made a bad call, but he was human. That’s baseball.
Galarraga smiled and joked with the reporters. Yes, he was disappointed, but he would show his son someday that he pitched a perfect game. It might not be in the record books, but he knew he did it.
After the game was over, the interviews finished, and the clock screaming that I really needed to get off the couch and clean up the kitchen, I continued to sit. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had witnessed and heard. I wanted to process what I had just learned.
Finish What You Start
Galarraga could have stormed off the field after the bad call, and while it would’ve been unprofessional, no one would’ve blamed him. He could’ve lost his composure and given up a hit with that 28th batter. Instead, he made the out and secured the win for his team.
Live in Such a Way that Others Will Fight for You
After viewing that final inning and the events afterwards, it was clear to me that those teammates surrounding Joyce weren’t just protesting a bad call. They were fighting for a good man, a man who deserved a perfect game.
Have the Guts to Admit When You’re Wrong
If I were Joyce, I would’ve run away and hid. Instead, he confronted this pitcher face-to-face, not in an e-mail or over the phone, but to his face, and in the same night he made the mistake.
Freely Forgive, and Keep Moving
Galarraga and his teammates all agreed; Joyce was a good umpire who made a bad call. They felt sorry for him–Galarraga suggested that Joyce might feel worse about the ending of the game than he did. After the fury of emotions immediately following the game died down, these players could acknowledge that the ump simply made a mistake, and they moved on.
Always Choose the Higher Road
Even after a night’s sleep, I’m still in awe of Armando Galarraga. What a class act. It’s not too often in this sports world that we get to witness men and women with true character, men and women who don’t barrage an official with profanity and insults after a call doesn’t go their way, men and women who keep their composure during and after the game. But Galarraga did, and he earned my respect.
When I want to teach my children about character, I hope to share this story with them someday. Life isn’t fair, and sometimes we don’t get what we deserve when we’ve done well, but there is a respectable way to act. And if we’ve lived a respectable life, we won’t have to fight when we’ve been slighted–others will fight for us. And the one lesson that hit me the hardest is that we shouldn’t care about getting recognition from others–Galarraga said he knew he threw a perfect game whether or not history acknowledged him–all that should matter is what we know to be true about ourselves. This lesson is one I have yet to master.
Before last night, I had no idea who Armando Galarraga was, and I wouldn’t have cared. Now, I am so glad that Matt changed the channel, because what Galarraga did changed me.