Friday, June 4, 2010

After the storm

Jim Joyce receives the lineup card from Armando Galarraga. (AP)
It was a good day to be a baseball fan.

What we began to see as last night gave way to this morning, flourished this afternoon when umpire Jim Joyce, mere hours after blowing a call that would've given Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game, took the field again to take his place behind home plate. A visibly emotional Joyce, wiping away tears, professionally and courageously led his crew onto the field in front of 28,000-plus Tigers fans, who were so irate when last they met. But, today, Joyce was greeted by an element of forgiving applause and even some supportive cheers that seemed to prevail over the inevitable smattering of boos.

And there was much more.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who conveyed his respect for Joyce last night, went even further today in arranging for Galarraga to deliver the lineup card to Joyce at home plate, giving the two another opportunity to bury the hatchet and put sportsmanship and class ahead of any lingering animosity.

Galarraga's teammates, who had to be physically restrained in their anger toward Joyce after last night's game, had nothing but well-wishes, compassion, understanding, respect and pats on the back for the umpire, who was overwhelmed by the amount of support he has received.

Armando Galarraga is presented with a new Corvette. (AP)
And certainly not to be forgotten, Galarraga was feted in fine fashion, receiving a Corvette from General Motors before the game and a proclamation from the governor of Michigan, who formally considered Galarraga's feat a perfect game, as far as the office is concerned.

After all, he's the only pitcher in history to throw a 28-out perfect game, when you think about it.

And isn't that really the central issue here, when it's all boiled down? History is history, whether it officially records a perfect game, as it has 20 times in the past, or recognizes an even more unique feat such as Galarraga's last night.

When you throw a perfect game, sure, you're in a unique class of pitchers who have that story to tell, who will forever be associated with greatness. But in Galarraga's case, consider everything that has happened to him in the last 24 hours. He technically threw a perfect game, and got an historic "28th out" to boot ... he initiated some of the finest sportsmanship I've ever witnessed, forever linking himself to a man who understood the magnitude of his mistake and owned up to it courageously and nobly, inspiring everyone who even remotely followed this story ... He brought to the world stage compassion, respect, sympathy and basic human decency among players, coaches, fans, media and even those who don't even follow baseball ... He received a sports car and a government edict, which joined everyone else in recognizing the fact that he did throw a perfect game... and he cemented himself a place in baseball history that is his and his alone, something no other player can ever, or likely will ever, share.

Not bad for a young pitcher, who was believed to be so tragically wronged in the immediate aftermath of Joyce's blown call heard 'round the world.

As this has developed, it's become clear to me that it's simply the term "perfect game" and our fixation on that baseball rarity that has blown this whole thing into the stratosphere. But isn't it really all about having a unique story to tell, a unique experience, a unique achievement that you can be proud of and reaching a point of distinction matched by few, if any? Isn't that what life is all about for all of us who don't play baseball? What establishing a legacy is about as we go through our own lives? Would you rather be able to say you've thrown a perfect game -- something 20 other pitchers can say -- or being able to say what Galarraga can say as you look back over your life?

I think we've gotten so literal and bound by technicalities and labels and terms and feats and statistics that it causes us to sometimes lose sight of the things that are truly great and truly worth remembering.

I'm certainly not taking anything away from a perfect game ... after all, every time I see a perfecto going into the fifth inning, I start to tingle a bit and wonder, "Can he do it?" It adds such an element of excitement to a game, where you hang on every pitch and the intrigue grows and grows, until the ninth inning becomes so electric you can barely stand it. And, oh how heartbreaking it is to climb that high, to come so close to something so remarkable and not be able to touch it. Its prestige is rivaled by nothing in baseball as far as personal achievements go, and it's because of this allure, so steeped in tradition, that this incident became such a significant chapter in baseball's history.

But knowing all that and knowing that the next time I see a perfect game in progress I'll most assuredly get that same thrill, that same high off the possibility of history, I can't help but think that what happened here today will be remembered, appreciated and treasured significantly longer and more intimately than it may have had Galarraga simply recorded only 27 outs.

1 comment:

Burke said...

This is quite a write-up on a really spectacular and historic event: I like your take concerning the sportsmanship involved and particularly the reaction of the players, fans & media towards the umpire himself. I think the media provided us with plenty of material to support the fact that nobody felt worse about the mistake than Jim Joyce himself! On the sportsmanship side, I had to remember the saying "10% of life is what happens to you, 90% of it is how you react" when the pitcher smiled in response to the blown call, walked back to the mound and got that last out. Love the blog, sir! Burke