03 June 2010

The Perfect Game

Jim's day started with him standing in front of thousands of angry people and a chorus of boos. Just the day before, he had committed one of the most notorious workplace blunders of all time. It's one thing for a small time employee in a small time industry to make a mistake. Behind closed doors. With an insignificant project.

This was different.

This screw-up was by one of the best in the business. On national television. In one of the most significant moments in his industry's storied history. In the most important moment of Jim's professional life, he got it wrong.

But there he was the next day, back at work and committed to doing better. As he was handed the Detroit Tigers' lineup card he looked up to see the face of Armando Galarraga and hordes of television cameras. If the news coverage and memories of yesterday weren't enough to drive a man to the breaking point, this moment was. A sea of boos produced a river of tears; Jim Joyce was overcome with emotion.

There have been only 20 perfect games pitched in the history of Major League baseball. Galarraga, a talented, but largely unknown pitcher with only 12 innings pitched all season long, was one out away from becoming the 21st when Jason Donald hit a grounder down the right side of the infield for the 27th consecutive putout.

But it wasn't meant to be.

From Jim Joyce's vantage point, Donald had beaten the throw to first. So, Joyce did what umpires are supposed to do when that happens; he called Donald safe.

No more perfect game.

No more no-hitter.

No more history.

The problem was...Donald was out. He was clearly out. By the time Joyce finally got to see the replay, he agreed.

"I just cost that kid a perfect game," Joyce sulked.

I couldn't imagine the pressure that an umpire is faced with in such a situation. Sure, it's part of the job, but imagine how tempted you must be on the last play of a perfect game to err on the side of the historical moment. Joyce didn't do that. He called it how he saw it. He was wrong, but he was wrong for the right reason.

What I love about this story is Joyce's integrity. He was honest with his call and upfront about being wrong. I also loved Galarraga's classy move today when he tried to console a clearly emotional Joyce at home plate. In an era of prima donna athletes and irrational fans, Galarraga knew that the boos, the threats to Joyce's family, and the media fallout were much more devastating to the umpire in this case. He understood the human element of the situation, and chose empathy over self-pity.

To me, this was a perfect game...pitching and otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Jim Joyce had the integrity to say "I screwed up."

I hope, for his sake, he doesn't go into politics. He wouldn't last a day.

Anonymous said...

Up until this year there were only 19 or so perfect games in all of major league baseball... this year pitchers have recorded 2 and should have had a 3.

The cool thing is Jim Joyce admitted his mistake - a judgement call as all umpiring decisions are - and owned up to the world. Wiping away tears as he met Armando Gallaraga who brought the lineup to him at home plate the next day.