The Perfect Game That Should Have Been

June 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm (Sports)

What happened at Comerica Park on Wednesday night will live on forever.  As I watched the events unfold, all I could think about was that I would one day tell my kids that I was privileged enough to watch the first-ever 28-out Perfect Game.  They would then go on to tell their kids.  And so on, and so on.

As a Tigers fan, I feel both enraged and proud at the same time.  As a baseball fan, I feel a sense of hope.  I was angry that a Perfect Game could be stolen from somebody.  I was angry that an umpire could possibly make a mistake of that importance, when they are supposed to be of big-league caliber.

As Armando Galarraga said: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Sadly, on that night, that statement wasn’t correct.  You, Armando, were perfect.  You had earned a place in the record books.  And it was taken from your grasp.  That statement however, while untrue, was just the start in turning an awful situation into something that we can all learn from.  What Galarraga and Joyce showed in the aftermath of the controversial call, is what I will stress to my kids when I tell them the story.  There are bigger things in life than the game itself.  When the call happened, all you could do was feel bad for Galarraga.  However, as the situation unfolded, all you could do was feel bad for Jim Joyce and his family.  They had to deal with threats of violence coming from insecure idiots, who had nothing better to do with their time than harass Jim’s children and his wife.

To those morons: why?  Why is that necessary?  Why do you feel the need to kick a man while he’s down just because you have no meaning to your life?  Jim Joyce already felt as bad as he possibly could, as we could see by his admission that he had blown the call.

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

Jason Donald was called safe. You be the judge.

Joyce felt it necessary to call Galarraga into the umpire’s room for one reason — to apologize.  He had seen the replay, he knew he blew it, and he felt really bad about it.  It isn’t common for an umpire to apologize for a mistake, but Joyce isn’t just any umpire.  He prides himself on being one of the best and he  had been voted the best twice in his career by a Sports Illustrated player poll.  This call was tearing him up.

“He feels really bad — probably more bad than me,” Galarraga said.  “But nobody’s perfect.  I give a lot of credit to that guy because he needed to talk to me and say, ‘I’m sorry.’  His body language said more than a lot of words.  His eyes were watering.  I gave him a couple hugs.  There is going to be a couple more — I hope so.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m still angry that Galarraga had a perfect game stolen from him.  But the more I hear Joyce talk, the more I realize this isn’t just your typical stubborn umpire.  He actually cares.  The class that he has shown throughout the situation has been refreshing to see.  He has admitted a mistake publicly.  He has apologized to Galarraga in person.  And he did not back away from the criticism.  In fact, he welcomed it because in his mind, “he deserved it.”  Joyce’s admission of guilt didn’t just make it hard to hate him, but it made it impossible not to forgive him.  Apparently Galarraga felt the same way.  The next day, Joyce was behind the plate.  And of course — Armando Galarraga was the one delivering the lineup to him as a way of a peace offering and a way for both parties to move forward.  Galarraga could have argued the call.  Instead, he smiled.  Galarraga could have protested the call to Major League Baseball.  Instead he celebrated with his teammates as if he was credited for a Perfect Game.  Galarraga could have been pissed, but instead he was understanding and even went as far as to tell Joyce “I am proud of you,” after Joyce had delivered his apology.

The class that was shown between these two unbelievable men was something that everybody should have been able to witness.  It was something that everybody should try to learn from.  It could not have been handled any better.  And the majority of the Tigers fans at Comerica Park, the very next day, must have noticed as Joyce was showered with cheers when he stepped on the field.  There were a few boos that rained down, as was to be expected, but they were in the minority.  With the way the whole situation unfolded, I was not the only one to be proud to be a Tigers fan.

Galarraga and Joyce handled the whole situation as well as they possibly could.

“I’m so proud of the fans,” Leyland said.  “I really am.  I just thought it was handled extremely well.  I thought the applause and the greeting for Galarraga was tremendous.  I thought the greeting for the umpire was great.  I’m proud to be the manager of this franchise, and I’m proud to manage for these fans.  They showed a lot of class, and it was a hard thing to do.”

Even Bud Selig has been amazed at the level of sportsmanship that he has witnessed over these last few days:

“First, on behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Armando Galarraga on a remarkable pitching performance.  All of us who love the game appreciate the historic nature of his effort last night.

“The dignity and class of the entire Detroit Tigers organization under such circumstances were truly admirable and embodied good sportsmanship of the highest order.  Armando and Detroit manager Jim Leyland are to be commended for their handling of a very difficult situation.  I also applaud the courage of umpire Jim Joyce to address this unfortunate situation honestly and directly.  Jim’s candor illustrates why he has earned the respect of on-field personnel throughout his accomplished career in the Major Leagues since 1989.”

Selig continued, acknowledging that he can not expect the situation to be handled with that sort of class every time, and therefore it is now his responsibility to make sure that mistakes like that do not happen again:

“As Jim Joyce said in his postgame comments, there is no dispute that last night’s game should have ended differently.  While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed.  Given last night’s call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features.  Before I announce any decisions, I will consult with all appropriate parties, including our two unions and the Special Committee for On-Field Matters, which consists of field managers, general managers, club owners and presidents.”

I was of the belief that replay did not belong in baseball.  The human element was a piece of baseball history that I cherished.  That view changed at approximately 8:50 PM on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010.  That view changed when I realized a Perfect Game could be taken from somebody that had earned it.  That has nothing to do with being a Tigers fan; it has everything to do with being a baseball fan.  As a Tigers fan, I was angry and upset that Galarraga did not get the Perfect Game he deserved.  As a baseball fan, I forgave Jim Joyce and turned my attention to the direction that Major League Baseball may be heading — the era of Instant Replay.  Every other sport has already gone in that direction, but baseball has relied on its history and has rejected the idea of moving away from the human element.  I was fine with that until now.  But the bottom line is that the mistake that happened on Wednesday night was a wake-up call.  That mistake can happen once, but must not happen again.  And now it is Selig’s turn to ensure that  it does not happen again.  If this kind of situation should ever repeat itself, I doubt the parties involved will handle it with as much class as Galarraga and Joyce did this time around.

If this kind of situation should ever repeat itself, I blame you Bud Selig for not making a change when the opportunity presented itself for the whole world to see.

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