Thursday, June 3, 2010

'Nobody is perfect'

I apparently created this blog a few years ago as one of those instances where I have the urge or a whim to do something, and then I lose interest. In this case, it's been sitting there and forgotten for years, but recently I've thought more and more about starting one up -- for what specific reason, I'm not exactly sure. I don't feel comfortable sharing every thought or feeling I have, I'm a pretty private person and I always kind of found this blog idea to be simply a method of garnering more attention than anyone really needs.

But there are times like tonight when I understand them, where I get that people have that need to vent and share a few thoughts from time to time. Because as I'm sitting here in my apartment, on my couch and watching the surprising Reds take on the Cardinals, while an ominous line of severe thunderstorms rumbles through, there was a development in baseball that has proven to be one of those instances that I just can't shake, and probably won't for a while.

Jim Joyce's fateful call at first. (Getty)
The Detroit Tigers' Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game. Facing the Cleveland Indians' Jason Donald, the 27th and what would have been his final batter, Galarraga induced a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He went wide to field the ball and threw to Galarraga, who covered first, for what the cameras showed to be the final out by at least a step and a historic night for Galarraga, the Tigers, their fans and for Major League Baseball, which would have seen a Major League-record third perfect game this season ... and the third in 23 days for that matter.

Except first-base umpire Jim Joyce ruled the runner safe. Perfection denied. The baseball world stunned. A single, glorious moment in a pitcher's career, one that has only come around for 20 Major League hurlers, purely and simply stolen away by a fleeting millisecond of human error.

Now, as awful as I feel for Galarraga, it's equally painful that Joyce was just a guy going out tonight to do his job, a job he's done and done well for 23 years, and having no idea of the magnitude in which his life will change in just one hour and 44 minutes after first pitch. As the minutes grew into hours -- which will inevitably grow into days, weeks and years for Joyce -- articles, news segments, sound bytes and headlines have seized on this story, thrusting the spotlight of disgrace (A Wikipedia hacker snidely provided a death date for Joyce following the incident: June 2, 2010) onto a man who made a split-second mistake and will not only suffer the immediate anguish of regret at costing this kid the most prestigious accomplishment a pitcher can achieve, but a lifetime of carrying this with him, day in and day out.

Jim Joyce faces the Tigers' wrath (AP)
As I flip through the channels and browse the Internet that are now becoming saturated with this whole fiasco, and watching that final play ad nauseam, to see Joyce stand his ground, looking utterly alone, as he faces an irate team barking and pointing and hurling insults at him after the game, I can't stop thinking about this guy and what he's going through tonight, how he's dealing with the persistent barrage of his own thoughts of failure ... how he'll wake up tomorrow morning and maybe for a blissful second forget this had even happened, until the inevitable black wave of realization washes over him, ruling out any hope that it was all a bad dream.

Well, the Reds, meanwhile, went on to lose to the Cardinals and relinquish sole possession of first place, and as I chatted with my brother -- who is as big of a Reds fan as anyone I know -- about tonight's imperfect game, I think he encapsulated the whole overshadowing effect this incident has had by saying that he felt worse about Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga than he did about the Reds' loss.

But as this whole ugly scene developed, I strangely started to become inspired by the admirable side of human nature that began to emerge. Joyce made no excuses after he looked at the replay, not only admitting he was wrong but flat out stating that "I just cost that kid a perfect game." He apologized to Galarraga in person, not hiding the emotion he felt over it, and he went into the Tigers clubhouse to apologize to the team.

Think of the courage that took to do.

And as all the announcers, analysts, reporters, columnists and fans rained unceasing blows upon Joyce for the blunder, really the only person that had every right to do so stayed silent. Galarraga only smiled in surprise -- or shock -- at the call, and afterward bore Joyce no ill will, saying he understands that "nobody is perfect" and even offering consolation for the umpire, who cost him not only a career-defining moment, but what can be considered a life-defining moment at that. Galarraga simply stated that he knows it was a perfect game, and knowing that is enough for him.

To that I say, Amen.

Baseball has always been a celebration of imperfection -- where a player who fails 70 percent of the time is a great player -- and it has widely been proclaimed a microcosm of life. Well, life is not perfect. And if our love of baseball and the beauty we find in it is rooted in the human element that can influence a game's outcome -- and without making a case for instant replay, an inevitable cry of debate that will increase exponentially because of this situation -- we have to be able to find a way, as difficult as it is, to understand that things like this can happen. Because it's a shame that a game that brings so much joy to people, can also ruin the lives of those who love it so much yet were unfortunate enough to screw up on its grand stage.

It's going to take some serious life perspective on Joyce's part to deal with this, there's no question. But I'm reminded of Don Denkinger, whose infamous blown call in the 1985 World Series defined his career, and instead of running and hiding from it, he's faced it head-on, has learned to live with it and, in a TV interview I saw a while back, has even hung a framed photo of his blown call in his house as a reminder that none of us are perfect ... and sadly, but fittingly, neither is baseball.

From what I saw of Jim Joyce tonight, he has that ability to move on from this, to frame this unfortunate chapter of his life within the context of life's imperfections and to be able to pick himself up, dust himself off and continue a well-respected career.

And equally important, we all need to learn to live with it, forgive and move on as well.

After all, Armando Galarraga already has.


Steve Bush said...

Great, well-thought out take.

metaphase said...

I love this post. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I will be linking to it shortly.