THE WORST CALL EVER…Reconsidered

I was furious at umpire Jim Joyce for robbing Armando Galarraga from a perfect game. But the reactions of the players involved have compelled everyone toward compassion.

On Thursday morning I was apoplectic and an umpire was the target of my rage. Yes it was irrational. Yes I probably need to start putting Prozac on my pancakes. But my anger was real. I couldn’t stand that a major league perfect game – a feat about as rare as a tap-dancing unicorn – was taken away from Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga after umpire Jim Joyce missed the call at first base on the 27th out. I couldn’t stand that Joyce was showered with praised in the press for being a “stand up guy.” And now I can’t stand something else. I was wrong. Something more important has blossomed in the aftermath of this game and that should be highlighted to the hills. It’s the actions of Galarraga himself and the reaction among fans. The incredible class and calm Galarraga has shown is an ideal of a word that has become something of a punchline: sportsmanship. He said, “I say many times: Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes a mistake. I’m sure he don’t want to make that call. You see that guy last night, he feels really bad. He don’t even change. The other umpires shower, eat. He was sitting in the seat (and saying), ‘I’m so sorry.'” Reading this and then seeing the Detroit fans actually applaud Joyce the next day has been remarkable. Even the guy who immediately started firejimjoyce.com posted, "You know, after hearing all the talk from both the pitcher and umpire Jim Joyce today, I have only one thought: They are both classier than I am.”

The second moment that changed me was an email from a reader named Britt Robson. I’ve never met Britt but he was checking out my column back when the readership was confined to blood relatives. Britt wrote me, “In your desire to tar and feather a truly execrable character, Bud Selig, you lost your perspective on Jim Joyce.  Galarraga himself exercised more restraint and perspective than you….The best part of your column was the start when you wrote that people should basically get a grip.”


But what finally knocked my surliness down for the count was an email from a gentleman named Mike Isaacs. He wrote,  “What I saw here was something that cut right into my ever-growing cynicism about the culture of sports and the people inside it. Joyce botched the call big-time on the 27th out of a would-be perfect game, pretty amazing in itself. But the real story for me started afterwards. It took on elements that I would never have guessed. First, the umpire sees the replay and admits his mistake and shows great feeling for how his mistake wronged the pitcher; the pitcher realizes that everyone makes a mistake and forgives him in as classy a way as possible. The Tigers players and manager apologize for their in-the-heat-of-the-moment tirades and praise Joyce as an upstanding guy and a good umpire. In a show of great compassion, they send the pitcher out there the next game to present the lineup card to support the umpire. Tigers fans applaud the umpire as he takes the field in a moment of fan empathy that I wasn’t sure I would ever see again. Is it just me or is this all extraordinary?


Finally, at the risk of sounding mawkish, one of the very basic reasons we all hold the ‘lefty’ politics that we hold is because we’re profoundly interested in people being treated fairly and with justice and with respect. I think having compassion for another human being during the most difficult of times is incredibly important in describing the reasons why I have the politics I have. Yes, I know a botched call in a baseball game may not matter in the big scheme of things and perhaps I’m making too big of a deal about the incident. But in a way I so very seldom see in sports or in other arenas of life these days, I was truly taken aback by what was on display after this incident: The principles of compassion and civility and empathy and good will from the pitcher impacted his teammates, manager, fans, and the umpire himself. It might not have been a perfect game because of Joyce’s big mistake but it was a perfect aftermath.”


I can’t argue with this. I believe that sports can speak to the best and worst angels of our nature when it actually compels us toward compassion that is in fact more important – and more rare - than a 1,000 perfect games.  I lost my head on this one and I’m better for people pointing that out (But I still can’t stand Bud Selig).


[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

15 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Nice Dave

It takes courage to admit when your wrong. Just like Joyce. So I commend you for writing this. And it really is a great story for baseball. It won't be forgotten and will add to the mystique of the game. And the key to this is, everyone knows he threw a perfect game. And we will know this forever. So it doesn't really matter if there is an asterisk in the record book. It's been recorded and the achievement cannot be denied.

As hard as it is sometimes, it's baseball's human element that make it the beautiful game it is.

fans with class

I can only wonder what the fan reaction would have been if it had happened in NY....

Galarraga really set the tone...but everyone really did the right thing...

yeah...I don't care for Selig much either...

Nice...

Mr. Zirin,
Your most recent column was a quite an improvement over the previous one. Thank you for highlighting the true beauty of sport, and the inherent possibility in competing against others. Though perfect games are incredible feats, and incredibly rare, what makes sports and life mysterious and wonderous is uncertainty and human folly.

Hallmark of a liberal.

The hallmark of a conservative is resistance to change. The hallmark of a liberal is openness to change. Somehow I knew you would change your view on this event after the facts settled out. It reaffirms my admiration for you and your work.

Big Ups

to Dave or revising his opinion.

Steve?

Steve?


Steve?

Hypothetically

So what if the pitcher had been a dumb right-wing nutjob like John Rocker or Mike Mussina, and they'd have totally thrown their toys out of the pram and called out Joyce?

What would your reaction have been then?

A travesty and a menace

All very thoughtful give and take, but some of the most vital and crucial elements of the perfect game incident are buried.

First, the racism and nationalism: it seems to me that if Randy Johnson had been the pitcher, rather than Armando Galarraga, the commissioner likely would have overturned the blown call, or the home plate umpire would have overturned the blown call, or the blown call might not have been made in the first place. The great fawning over how all this was handled has partly, maybe largely, been due to the racial and even national situation: the perpetrator an explosive white authority figure, the victim a mild-mannered, even meek (though classy), person of color, from Venezuela. And the wrong is allowed to stand. "Mistakes were made," but the wrong is allowed to stand; even though it could be readily corrected. This is both a familiar pattern and another destructive precedent, in image and actuality.

Secondly, and possibly even more disturbing, is the swift and mindless obedience to unjust authority. The replay highlighted the wrong (call) again on the stadium video screen, but no player walked off the field in protest. No one sat down on home plate in protest, or even tossed a glove onto the plate to stop the game. Galarraga's manager scarcely took a minute to protest.

As a result, the wrong stands, and society congratulates itself far and wide on how ultimately good were the actions of everyone involved. If only other people at home and in distant lands were so docile in face of unjust white authority, what a wonderful world this would be.

Powerful imagery, powerful pageantry, some of it touching and humane, widely hailed. But what gets distorted and disappeared are the crucial elements that are so dispiriting and dispirited, and so greatly destructive of a just and healthy world. The perfect game travesty has become a propaganda coup for unjust white national authority.

best result ever!!

Hey...

so Joyce blows the call, that sucks, steal away the perfecto and cause a big stink,, but think of the upside. Next year instant replay is a lock!!!, and it'll never happen again.

Bad call, good result...

what?

Tony:

Are you really saying that Jim Leyland is a racist because he didn't argue for more than a minute?

Are you really saying that Galaragga can't think or act for himself because he's Venezuelan?

Since when does accepting a sincere apology make someone "meek"?

My God!

@Tony

Please provide the reference to Joyce being "explosive." I hadn't ever heard him described that way.

It seems like you are stretching a little too far.

Tony has a point

Tony, I'm kind of feeling you on this one. The general message here seems to be the meek response to an injustice is the "classy" response. That's a first. While I think it would be cruel to make this a Bill Buckner moment for Jim Joyce, I think what really needs to be done is to keep this in context. It's only a damn baseball game. Boo, cheer, whatever, do what fans do. It's not that serious. But one does have to wonder if the images of the forgiving, sympathetic Latino and the crying, apologetic, disgraced white man isn't what people are emotional about. Would a white player be expected or encouraged to show "righteous indignation".

nobody's perfect

Maybe SI should consider Armando Galarraga & Jim Joyce Sportsmen of the Year for their positive contributions to what is really just a game.

Have you actually seen a tap-dancing unicorn?
I sure haven't but I'll let you know when I do.

Humility is a good thing.

Nobody's perfect.

tony,

your post is an affront to all logical discussion regarding this incident. there are disagreements on how it should have been handled during the game, after the game by Selig, and what ramifications it should have for the future, but there is no foundation to prop up your racist thoughts.

I'm Blushing

Sister Brujo, your obsession is flattering - like a schoolgirl huffing and puffing, her mug plastered up against a chain link fence.

You seem to be looking for a response regarding Dave's current column, so here it is:

I stand by his first piece as well as Martin Espada's commentary.

Imperfect People

You, like Jim Joyce, admitted a mistake. I had similar reactions. It's all good. And yes, we are still allowed to despise Bud Selig!

15 Reader Comments | Add a comment

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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