Perfect Lesson from a ‘Perfect’ Game

Armando Galarraga may have lost a perfect game, and Jim Joyce may now be forever known as the man who cost him that perfect game, but the Detroit Tigers’ pitcher and the longtime umpire both gained something arguably more valuable than a footnote in the baseball record books through their actions after Wednesday’s baseball game.

Joyce, the first base umpire, erroneously ruled Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe despite being a half-step late to first base with two outs in the ninth inning. Joyce’s mistake stripped away what would have been only the 22nd perfect game in Major League Baseball’s 130-year history, and ended Galarraga’s chance at baseball immortality. Instead, Galarraga was forced to achieve a one-hit 3-0 shutout victory, and Joyce was left to deal with an angry Detroit team and fans.

Some umpires would have refused to admit they made a mistake. But after watching the replay immediately following the game, Joyce humbled himself, headed to the Detroit locker room, and offered a tearful and heartfelt apology to Galarraga. Afterward, Joyce owned up to his mistake to the media and said he deserved all the verbal abuse that Galarraga’s teammates and manager gave him immediately following the game.

To Galarraga’s credit, he handled himself with poise in the heat of the moment, laughing off the bad call and regrouping to get the next batter out. Other players might not have had the mental focus to put the incident out of mind and concentrate on the next batter. Afterward, Galarraga appeared to be one of the few that didn’t give Joyce a verbal undressing as the umpire was heading off the diamond.

The following day, Joyce was assigned as the home plate umpire for the third game in a three-game series between the Tigers and Indians. Any further tensions were brushed aside, however, during a touching moment prior to the beginning of the game. It’s customary for the two ballclub managers to hand the home plate umpire the official lineup card prior to the first pitch. But instead of Detroit manager Jim Leyland heading out to hand off the lineup, Galarraga went instead, shaking hands with a visibly emotional Joyce.

Galarraga and Joyce turned what easily could have been a contentious situation into a valuable lesson. Joyce showed that by being humble and acknowledging shortcomings, you can diffuse potential hostility. Galarraga showed that one can remain poised even when in the midst of an unfair and frustrating situation, and that it’s often best to extend forgiveness rather than display anger.

So even though Galarraga didn’t technically pitch a perfect game, he and Joyce have both been a perfect example of sportsmanship and everyone can learn from their actions.

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