Thursday, June 03, 2010

What Baseball Taught Us About Grace & Forgiveness

Even if you're not a baseball fan, you've likely heard about the near perfect game that Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga threw last night against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. For those of you that don't follow baseball, a perfect game is when a pitcher is able to pitch for nine innings without any opposing players reaching base safely. Nobody can get on base by getting a hit, earning a walk, due to an error, getting hit by a pitch or any other way. 27 up, 27 down.

During last night's game, Galarraga had managed to get the first 26 batters out when he faced Indians shortstop Jason Donald with two outs in the ninth inning. Donald hit a weak grounder to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who fielded the ball cleanly and flipped it to Galarraga for what appeared to be the game's final out and the completion of Major League Baseball's 21st perfect game. But veteran umpire Jim Joyce signaled that Donald had beat the throw and called him safe at first. Immediate replays showed that Cabrera's throw beat Donald by half a step and that he should have been called out.

Although Tigers manager Jim Leyland and other teammates argued with Joyce, Galarraga turned away, smiled and proceeded to get the last out on the next hitter, Trevor Crowe. With what would have been the first perfect game in the history of the storied Detroit franchise, Galarraga could have been justifiably upset at Joyce. Few would have faulted him were he to have thrown a tantrum, kicked some dirt on Joyce and argued until he got thrown out of the game. But he didn't. He responded with grace and dignity and went back to work to finish the game.

Having watched the replay after the game, Jim Joyce humbly admitted his error and expressed his remorse towards Galarraga. In a touching move this afternoon, Jim Leyland allowed Galarraga to take the Tigers lineup out to home plate before today's game before Cleveland. The umpire that he handed the card to? None other than Jim Joyce. Galarraga had accepted his apology and they shook hands as Joyce was visibly moved.

In another nice gesture, General Motors, who has also taken their share of hits recently, presented Galarraga with a brand new Corvette for his pitching masterpiece. His display of class in choosing not to argue the call and in accepting Joyce's apology say much about the character of Armando Galarraga. He may not go down in the record books as having pitched a perfect game, but those of us that are Tiger fans will remember the perfect game he pitched and his perfect response to a difficult situation.

My friend, Nancy Bartolec, said this about the game and the response afterwards:
"I wonder if perfect is overrated. Jim Joyce is showing great character in the midst of significant personal failure and Armando Galarraga is showing great character in the midst of significant personal loss. They are both currently way more fascinating and impressive than a perfect game."
I couldn't agree more. It's unfortunate that Joyce will likely become known as the Bill Buckner of umpires and have a fine career tainted because of a single misjudgment in a moment of time. It took a big man to forgive and it took a big man to go back out on the field into a potentially hostile environment this afternoon. Thank you Armando for representing Detroit well and demonstrating what grace and forgiveness looks like and thank you to Jim Joyce for your display of humility in recognizing your mistake. I hope my fellow Detroit fans will be as quick to forgive Joyce as Galarraga has been.

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