Perfect acceptance of an imperfect ump
By: By Dan Le Batard, The Miami Herald, Superior Telegram
Here it is, the decision of a lifetime. It is right in front of you. It will be, by the time you have made it, the most important choice of your entire career. You are very good at what you do. You have spent more than two decades at the top of your profession. But you have but a blink to choose now. See, process, decide — in less time than it took you to read those three words.
And you choose wrong.
So very wrong.
And the world immediately falls on your head before you have had time to drop it.
So cruel, baseball. Everything you’ve ever done can be erased in a hiccup, as Bill Buckner can tell you.
A human game was marred by human error Wednesday night, the pursuit of historic perfection punctuated by historic imperfection. Umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at the worst possible time. In the history of sports rulings, you aren’t going to find too many worse than this.
Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga had faced 26 batters and retired each one. One more to go. One strike to go. Slow roller to the right side. Galarraga gets to first base in time to record the out — clearly a step ahead of the runner. But Joyce chooses wrong.
And history is forever altered. One step changed the headlines from “Perfect game!” to “Imperfect ump!,” just like that the pendulum swinging from joyous to angry, one symbolic step the difference between the perfection humans aren’t meant to achieve and the imperfection we’ve perfected.
The oddest thing happened then, though. Many years ago, a home run was taken from George Brett because of an umpire’s silly decision about pine tar on his bat, and Brett famously raged out of the dugout, requiring all manner of restraint as he boiled near the umps. That’s what happens sometimes when competition-aholics are robbed of what they have earned. It wasn’t an important home run, never mind an immortal one. Just another regular-season game. And Brett lost all control. People understood the reaction. Whether it is Bernie Madoff or Scott Rothstein, Americans get very, very angry when what they have rightly earned is stolen.
And here was young Galarraga, a pitcher with a 20-18 career record, on immortality’s front porch, literally a step from this divine place only 20 other pitchers in America’s most historic game have ever reached. Fans would have understood if he had thrown his glove or filled the sky with expletives or maybe even bumped the ump in an injustice-soaked burst.
But you know what he did?
He laughed. It wasn’t a mocking or sarcastic laugh, either. It looked like the sweet laugh of acceptance. Tranquility amid turbulence. Almost a spiritual state. The very opposite of wherever it was that Brett visited as he was being restrained.
Religions form in search of this kind of balance and serenity. Amazing grace.
You can’t really fix this. Commissioner Bud Selig can overturn the ruling, as he may, but it doesn’t bring back the joy. The moment has been forever stolen by human error.
You can’t have teammates come back and pile on him, or fans file back into the stadium with a spontaneous noise. And Joyce, of course, was despondent. He had blown the biggest call of his career. He apologized to Galarraga. Hugged him, even. And Galarraga accepted.
Truth is, umpiring decisions impact outcomes all the time without this kind of notice. Heck, we just had the 20th perfect game right here in Miami last weekend, thrown by Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay, and the ump’s absurd strike zone in that game helped make that one as perfect as this one was flawed.
But Wednesday’s reaction, so loud at first, was somehow softened by the humanity exhibited by both pitcher and ump in interviews afterward. A broken umpire’s obvious despondence mixed with a betrayed pitcher’s gentle forgiveness put feelings and context and empathy where there had been only wrath and mockery.
The Indians and Tigers played a baseball game Wednesday night, and it was not quite perfect.
But it was about as close as sports can get.
— Copyright (c) 2010, The Miami Herald/ Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.